Entertainment company: Board member Susan Arnold: Disney’s new superhero

New York Susan Arnold knows what she is getting into when she becomes chairman of the board of directors of Walt Disney at the turn of the year. The manager has been on the supervisory board of the US entertainment group for 14 years. Now she will replace long-time Disney boss Bob Iger, who stepped down from his CEO position in 2020 and is now also stepping down as “Chairman of the Board”.

This is the first time in the 98-year history of Disney that a woman has assumed this position. The manager from the industrial city of Pittsburgh initially made a career for almost three decades at the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, where she was promoted to president. She then moved to the Carlyle Group investment company.

Arnold not only gained experience as a supervisor at Disney, she also sat on the board of directors of the fast food chain McDonald’s for several years. “Susan is an incredibly valued manager whose wealth of experience, immovable integrity, and reasoned judgment have been invaluable to the company since joining the board in 2007,” said Iger of his successor.

Iger himself was the sole ruler of Disney for a long time. Like many other American corporate leaders, he held both the CEO and chairman positions for a long time. But recently more and more corporations have moved away from it.

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Arnold has made it into the list of the “100 most powerful women worldwide” by the US magazine “Fortune”. Two decades ago, the Wall Street Journal listed her as one of the “should be watched” women. Arnold served on the board of directors of the nonprofit organization Catalyst, which promotes women in business.

“Cunningly smart, authentic, fun”, is how the consultant Dennis Shuler from Kinetic Consulting describes them in a LinkedIn post. “One of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for,” said Bracken Darrell, CEO of computer accessories manufacturer Logitech. And further: “Her remarkable leadership style and her humanity affect the business, but above all the people.” For many managers she is a positive example.

Cooperation with the new CEO Bob Chapek

In her position as chairman of Disney’s board of directors, Arnold must now work with CEO Bob Chapek, Iger’s successor in that position. Arnold and Chapek have known each other at Disney for many years – Arnold was already an independent member of the board of directors, and Chapek was responsible for the theme parks.

Chapek rose to CEO in 2020 after three decades at Disney – and was immediately put under pressure by the corona pandemic. After only a few days in office, he had all the amusement parks closed, the four cruise ships docked and concentrated even more on Disney’s new focus: the streaming business.

Because the American entertainment group now has a lot more to offer than funny cartoons and the ideal world of adventure in Florida, California, Shanghai or Paris. During Iger’s tenure, the successful takeover of the animation studios from Pixar, for which Disney paid more than seven billion dollars, fell. There was also Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm for four billion dollars each, and in 2019 Iger signed the takeover of the entertainment business of Rupert Murdoch’s “21st Century Fox”.

Disney now has access to hit series such as The Simpsons, all Disney film classics and blockbusters such as Star Wars and Avengers. With Disney plus, the group launched a package for families in 2019 that already has 118 million subscribers. And because people had to spend a lot of time at home on the sofa during the pandemic, they made extensive use of the offer. Disney’s stated goal is to have a total of 260 million subscribers by 2024.

With Arnold and Chapek, there are now two managers at the important control points, both of whom have little affinity for showbiz in Hollywood. While the predecessor Iger was a frequent guest at Hollywood parties, maintained contact with agents and actors and also saw themselves as creative minds, Arnold and Chapek had little to do with the glittering world. They preferred to focus entirely on business.

Focus even more on the streaming business

And because the streaming business was doing so well recently, Chapek has now focused even more on it. For example, a central decision should be made as to whether a certain film will be shown in the cinema first – or on the streaming platforms. This approach is not particularly popular in Hollywood.

The decision to simultaneously stream certain films at the cinema release for a one-off surcharge annoys many actors, for whom a large part of the payment often depends on their success in the cinemas.

The last argument with star actor Scarlett Johansson showed that. She played the superhero Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel film “Black Widow” and negotiated a fee of $ 20 million for it. Another $ 50 million should have come from the box office success. When Disney decided to show the film on Disney plus during the pandemic, Johansson sued the company. This was followed by a public dispute that ended with an agreement in October 2021.

The relationship between Hollywood and the streaming providers is one of the greatest challenges for Arnold and Chapek. Disney can draw on a full catalog of films and series. But the corporation also has to produce new material to keep audiences, and for that it needs prominent actors.

The 67-year-old Arnold also has to decide how much she wants to get involved in the operational decisions: Will she proceed in the same way as her predecessor Iger, who still had a huge say in the matter? Or will she rather perceive her role from a distance?

In any case, your work will not be limited to choosing films. After all, Chapek and Arnold von Iger inherited not only a huge collection of content, but also a large mountain of debt that goes back heavily to the Fox takeover. That too needs to be removed.

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