The Walt Disney Company has shared executive compensation packages for current CEO Bob Iger, as well as dearly-departed ex-executives Bob Chapek and Christine McCarthy, and others in the current c-suite. This post takes a look at those numbers and Disney’s explanation for the salaries, severance, and bonuses. Plus, a look at Chapek resurfacing for the first time since his firing!
It’s now been over a year since Bob Iger reentered the building as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which was shortly after the start of the 2023 fiscal year. (Iger returned on November 22, the fiscal year started on October 1.) The Board of Directors pulled off a classic Bob Swap™️, replacing Chapek with once former and now current CEO Bob Iger.
The story behind this has been pieced together in the months and year since, and covered in exhaustive detail throughout our somehow still-ongoing Battle of the Bobs series. We don’t watch reality television, but we still get our gossip “fix” from the palace intrigue at Disney and in-fighting between the Bobs. The most recent development in this saga comes via an SEC filing that revealed salaries and statements about company leadership.
For the fiscal 2023 year, Bob Iger saw his compensation plummet to the low amount of only $31,587,166. That’s down from $45.9 million in fiscal 2021, his last full year of employment at the company before returning to the helm last year shortly after the new fiscal year began.
Bob Iger’s fiscal year 2023 compensation package included $865,385 in base salary, plus $16.1 million in stock awards, $10 million in stock-option awards, $2.14 million cash bonus and $2.48 million in other compensation, according to the company’s proxy statement filed with the SEC.
Per that same SEC filing, stock awards are subject to performance conditions that are valued based on the probability that such targets will be achieved. Assuming, instead, that the highest level of performance conditions are achieved by the Walt Disney Company’s stock, Iger’s stock award for fiscal 2023 could be worth as much as $33 million–just the stock award.
Of course, if Disney keeps putting out smash hits on par with Wish, The Marvels, Haunted Mansion, and Indiana Jones 5 (just to name a few), perhaps that stock performance will be even lower. The point, though, is that Iger’s compensation could vary and is more performance-based now than it was in the past.
(This is similar to the eye-popping headlines about Warners CEO David Zaslav supposedly making $250 million per year. He doesn’t actually; that’s his maximum compensation if he hits stock performance targets. He won’t accomplish that because he sucks and there’s no way he’s going to more than triple the current share price, which is what would be needed to earn ~$200 million of his theoretical pay.)
According to the SEC filing, here are Bob Iger’s performance highlights in fiscal 2023:
- Restructured the company to restore creativity to the heart of the business.
- Implemented financial discipline across all operations, including over-achieving target of identifying cost savings of $5.5 billion.
- Studio led the global box office in calendar 2023, with four of the top 10 highest grossing films of the year. In fiscal 2023, Avatar: The Way of Water generated $2.3 billion in worldwide box office, the third highest box office of all time.
- Mr. Iger created a Chief Brand Officer position, significantly enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of our brand management process.
- Mr. Iger assisted the Succession Planning Committee in ongoing leadership succession planning.
- Disney was named one of “America’s Most Trustworthy Public Companies” by Newsweek and was #1 in a “Brand Intimacy Study” recognizing Disney’s power in building bonds with consumers. The Company was also named one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” by Fortune, and Fast Company ranked Disney as one of the “Most Innovative Companies.”
By contrast, the median Disney employee works in a full-time hourly role in Parks & Resorts and has been with Disney for over twelve years. For fiscal 2023, the median employee’s total annual compensation was $54,010. The ratio of Iger’s annualized compensation to the median Disney employee’s total annual compensation was 595:1.
That ratio is, uh, really something! This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I do not necessarily have a problem with high executive compensation when the leader in question is clearly responsible for growth or success. When former Disney CEO Michael Eisner exercised stock options worth $565 million in the late 1990s, there was an argument to be made that he was worth every penny of that after turning the troubled company around and building it into the entertainment behemoth that it is today.
Similar arguments could be made for the earnings of a range of people–from Taylor Swift to Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos to Bill Gates to Jensen Huang to Oprah to Ellen. Shohei Ohtani might be shopping for homes near Bob in Brentwood, and the new Dodger is either paid a lot more or a lot less than the Disney CEO depending upon how you value his deal. Either way, Shohei already seems worth it given merchandise and ticket sales, and everything else he’ll bring to the table for the team.
Even as someone who has skewed more pro-Iger, it’s difficult for me to look at that list of “performance highlights” from last year and see any uniquely Iger accomplishments that justify the $30+ million payday. Had he righted the ship and turned things around, putting Disney on a clear course of future success, then sure–whatever. But that’s not what happened. The future is still very uncertain, with big question marks about the future of linear television, streaming, debt, and more.
Given that, I look at those median (and below!) Parks & Resorts employees, in particular the frontline Cast Members, and can’t help but think that they were the ones who were the difference-makers in fiscal 2023. This isn’t a matter of simply saying what I know you want to hear. (If it were, I certainly wouldn’t have said that Eisner deserved $565 million!)
I’m completely serious. Parks & Resorts was the one bright spot for the Walt Disney Company during the 2023 fiscal year. Even as streaming continued to lose money and other divisions underperformed, Parks & Resorts kept chugging along and overperformed. Again.
I suppose you could attribute that success to leadership within the division. You could just as easily argue that it happened in spite of, not because of them. That they are the glue holding the gears together. It was the Cast Members on the frontlines, doing the hard work and heavy lifting–with one hand tied behind their backs thanks to unnecessary friction in the guest experience introduced by leadership–to make magical memories and keep people coming to the parks.
This blog has repeatedly advocated for higher pay for Cast Members. Again, this is not a matter of trying to score easy points. It is selfish. Quality Cast Members who are treated right, feel valued, and are loyal to the company are a good thing for me, as a guest who can see and feel a difference when Disney takes care of its people. Cast Members are the difference-makers, and the company investing in them is just good business. Dropping tens of millions of dollars on executives who, at best, treaded water is decidedly less so.
A bit of an aside, but this is a huge part of why I love In-N-Out Burger and am becoming a Buc-ee’s believer. The family and individuals who own these companies are likely wealthy. I could not care in the least. Actually, I take that back–they probably deserve it. Not just because they run great businesses, but because they take care of their people and that is immediately evident in the customer experience. It’s an ‘everybody wins’ scenario–what’s not to love?!
I am cheering for Iger and I will change my tune if 2024 is a great year and Disney clearly turns a corner. At which point, the performance-based compensation of Iger and other key executives should absolutely reflect that. But that’s not where we’re at a little over a year after Iger returned.
To be completely clear, I also (still) think it’s a good thing that Disney extended Bob Iger’s contract by two years, and he will continue to serve as Chief Executive Officer through December 31, 2026. He needs the runway for succession planning and to turn things around–and that includes damage Iger himself inflicted–and is best situated at making that happens from the perspective of experience and expertise.
The same SEC filing last year revealed the reason for former CEO Bob Chapek’s firing and his severance package. Per that, Bob Chapek was entitled to the following cash termination payments:
- $6,527,397 in remaining base salary through the scheduled expiration date of his employment agreement
- $1,027,397 equivalent to a pro-rated target bonus for fiscal 2023
- $12,657,435 in restricted stock unit acceleration
In total, Chapek was to walk away with over $20 million for a little under two months’ worth of work. (Disney’s fiscal 2023 year started on October 1 and Chapek was fired on November 22.)
The latest SEC filing for fiscal 2023 essentially restates some of these numbers, indicating that for fiscal 2023, Chapek received $673k in base salary, $1.3 million in stock awards (that could be valued at up to $2.35 million), and $7.7 million in other compensation for a total package of $9.94 million.
For reference, Chapek had a total compensation package of $24.2 million in fiscal 2022 and $32.5 million in fiscal 2021. Those differences were largely performance based, attributable to increases and decreases in the company’s share price.
Disney’s SEC Proxy Statement also indicates that former CFO Christine McCarthy’s compensation package totaled $18.1 million; interim CFO Kevin Lansberry earned $3.9 million; General Counsel Horacio Gutierrez earned $11.7 million; HR head Sonia Coleman earned $4 million; and comms chief Kristina Schake earned $3.9 million.
Much more interesting, I think, is that former CEO Bob Chapek has resurfaced after over a year of laying low! To my knowledge, Chapek has not made any public appearances or even statements since being ousted from Disney in November 2022. This isn’t to say he’s living in a cave or cabin in the woods, or that he hasn’t stepped out of the shadows to grab some Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. I assume he has. He’s only human (allegedly)! Just that he hasn’t done anything high-profile.
There have been rumblings that Chapek is working on a book and has been plotting his comeback. He’s definitely had his “camp” comment in the trades, trading blows with Iger in a number of the stories we’ve enjoyed over the last year. (We have it on good authority that the article that gave rise to Bob Chapek Claims Being Disney CEO Was 3 Years of Hell, But He Pet a Hippo was via the Chapek camp; it intended to, somehow, make him look like the good guy.)
Anyway, global medical technology company Masimo announced that Bob Chapek has been appointed to the company’s Board of Directors. Masimo develops and produces a wide array of industry-leading monitoring technologies, including innovative measurements, sensors, patient monitors, and automation and connectivity solutions.
In addition, Masimo Consumer Audio is home to eight legendary audio brands, including Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Marantz, and Polk Audio. Masimo’s mission is to improve life, improve patient outcomes, and reduce the cost of care.
If you’ve heard of Masimo, it’s probably due to the company’s high-profile patent dispute with Apple over the blood oxygen feature in Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that the blood oxygen sensors in both devices infringed on patents held by Masimo, leading Apple to briefly stop selling the devices.
“I am thrilled to join the Masimo Board,” said Mr. Chapek. “I look forward to helping advance the company’s growth by leveraging their core technologies in the consumer and consumer health spaces.”
Joe Kiani, Chairman and CEO of Masimo, said, “We are honored to have Bob join the Board. As we execute our hospital to home strategy, we expect to benefit greatly from Bob’s role on our Board.”
Honestly, I have no clue what to make of this. There’s a joke to be made that Chapek is entering his Martin Shkreli era, looking to do to literal human health what he did to Disney’s figurative health. Or perhaps he just relishes playing the role of villain against beloved American institutions–first from within Disney, now outside Apple. Maybe his next role will be running for president on the platform of “ban hamburgers and apple pie.” Nothing would surprise me.
It’s hard to see what Chapek’s play is here. There’s always the possibility that he’ll continue staying silent, serving on relatively low-profile boards of corporations and nonprofits for the remainder of his days. That he felt so betrayed by Disney, and burned by the spotlight that he wants none of that ever again. Even in his last Wall Street Journal interview and earnings call before being fired, there was the sense that he was getting fed up with it all.
But my bet is that he mounts a comeback. Not in the Hollywood sense, literal or figurative. I don’t think he has the temperament or inclination to work in the media industry, and it’s hard to see him being given a major opportunity there. That would also make it easier for direct comparisons and “how the mighty have fallen” takes.
What I could see as more likely is Chapek gradually easing back into things over the next couple of years with board appearances like this one, before taking a major building or rebuilding role. If it’s the latter, look for some company that has also fallen from grace–maybe Enron will try to make a comeback!
Joking aside, there are plenty of once-beloved brands that could benefit from fiscal discipline and austerity measures–things that Chapek actually seems pretty good at. I could see him serving a similar role in a startup looking to achieve viability, but needing experience and expertise beyond what its founders can offer.
Or maybe he’ll double-down on his public speaking and media training, will land a role as a talking head, and end up interviewing Iger. That’s the kind of PPV action that could rake in big bucks, with the dynamic duo managing to inadvertently save linear television.
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What are your thoughts on the Bobs’ 2023 compensation and severance? Think Iger is “worth” 595x the average Parks & Resorts Cast Member? What about Chapek resurfacing to serve on the board of Masimo? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!