EDITORIAL: Bob Chapek is trying to turn his bean counter legacy into an innovator, but is it too late?

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek wants to change his legacy for the better. He had a difficult start to his term; we’ll give it to him. He took over from Bob Iger at the start of a global pandemic that continues to affect operations nearly two years later. But the series of tough decisions hidden behind the appearance of an unprecedented situation has grown rather than diminished, and Disney Parks guests have made it clear that their tolerance is dwindling. Chapek was already on thin ice with this particular segment of Disney customers after his tenure as head of the theme parks division.

Chapek sadly hates his “bean counter” reputation, so much so that PR managed to get him to say as much in an interview. It’s no secret that we believe this nickname is not a misnomer. Price increases are normal, but lately they have been associated with cost-cutting policies, reductions in service levels, and sometimes the outright elimination of free perks that customers have enjoyed for years.

Walt Disney World guests are now paying more for less, as many basic entertainment offerings and services have yet to return. The free FastPass has been replaced by Genie+ and Lightning Lane, which at $15 per day per person for the basic tier can add up quickly for an average family. Resort-wide food and beverage prices have increased by 15%.

Disney has made it clear that it is aware of this public perception. Instead of reversing those decisions or making customer-friendly changes to resolve complaints, Chapek instead focuses on ignoring past mistakes and creating a new legacy. Its eyes are riveted on the second of its “three pillars”: innovation.

Chapek is leading the charge toward untapped opportunities, but are those opportunities really Disney “innovation” at its best? And are they consistent with the Disney brand? Under his rule, Disney will enter sports betting, cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and return to the real estate industry. With this new leadership, Bob Chapek seems hopeful that successful ventures in these new areas will bring record profits to the company, creating a new legacy.

But what then becomes of The Walt Disney Company that we knew and loved? Disney Parks Worldwide is the most well-known division of the company, as well as the most physical manifestation of the Disney brand that we can experience. Will the successes of other companies make up for the goodwill lost by overpricing and underdelivering customer experiences in parks? Or is Chapek tarnishing the Disney name for the sake of the bottom line?

As our readers, you are already making your opinions heard. But in the end, will Chapek really care as long as the stock continues to rise? Disney is posting record profits, but shareholders need to step up and be heard. Investors holding Disney stock long-term should let Chapek know that short-term profits, at the expense of the long-term viability of the Disney brand, are short-sighted. Walt knew as much and was always focused on the future. “Quality will pay off,” as Walt so aptly put it, means that investing in a quality product is worth more in the long run than skimping on quality to make a quick buck. Alas, this seems to be a lost lesson for Chapek.

What do you think of Bob Chapek’s vision for the future of The Walt Disney Company? Is the company heading in the right direction? Will the successes of these new ventures change your opinion of him as CEO? Let us know in the comments.

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