Disney CEO Bob Iger, who steered the company through successful purchases of Star Wars, Marvel and Fox's entertainment businesses, is stepping down immediately, the company said in a surprise announcement Tuesday.
The Walt Disney Co. named as his replacement Bob Chapek, most recently chairman of Disney's parks, experiences and products business.
Iger will remain executive chairman through the end of his contract Dec. 31, 2021.
"I will continue to conduct the company's creative endeavors while also leading the board," Iger said on a conference call.
In a statement, Iger said it was an "optimal time" for him to step down following Disney's acquisition of Fox's entertainment assets and the launch of Disney Plus streaming service in November.
"Did not see this coming -- Wowza," tweeted LightShed media analyst Rich Greenfield.
Iger became chief executive of the home of Mickey Mouse in 2005 after a shareholder revolt by Roy E. Disney led to the ouster of longtime chief Michael Eisner. Iger steered Disney through successful acquisitions of Lucasfilms, Marvel, Pixar and other brands that became big moneymakers for Disney.
He was the No. 2 highest paid CEO in 2018, as calculated by The Associated Press and Equilar, an executive data firm. He earned $65.6 million. The top earner was Discovery's David Zaslav who earned $129.5 million.
Susan Arnold, the independent lead director of the Disney board said succession planning had been ongoing for several years.
Chapek is only the seventh CEO in Disney history.
Chapek was head of the parks, experiences and products division since it was created in 2018. He was previously head of parks and resorts and before that president of consumer products.
Iger, a former weather forecaster, joined broadcaster ABC in 1974 and rose through its ranks. Disney bought the network in 1996.
During his career at ABC, Iger developed such successful programs as “Home Improvement,” “The Drew Carey Show,” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and was instrumental in launching the quiz show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” He was also criticized for canceling well-regarded but expensive shows such as “Twin Peaks,” “China Beach,” and “30-something.”