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How Dana Walden might maybe also defy critics and turn into Disney’s first female CEO

Dana Walden, co-chair of Disney Leisure

Rich Polk | Getty Photos

In 1994, a captain of the media and leisure commerce seen something in Dana Walden that made him judge she modified into capable of a bigger operate.

Thirty years later, that might maybe also simply happen again.

That first time, the federal government modified into Peter Chernin, then president of 20th Century Fox Filmed Leisure and later president and chief working officer of Rupert Murdoch’s Information Corp. Chernin plucked Walden from Fox’s corporate communications division and gave her a job in TV.

In 2024, the federal government is Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, and the jam he’s pondering about Walden for is that of his successor, constant with other folks conversant within the technique. The appointment would contrivance Walden the principle female CEO of the Walt Disney Co. in its 100-300 and sixty five days ancient past.

Simply a 300 and sixty five days into her early profession at 20th Century Fox, working in publicity, Walden delivered a presentation at a company retreat in Santa Barbara, California. She modified into particular to race away a long-lasting affect on Chernin, now chairman and CEO of funding company The Chernin Neighborhood, after quite loads of encounters in which he’d by no manner remembered her.

To earn his consideration, Walden made up our minds to be dauntless. She told Fox executives, including Chernin, that they weren’t being aggressive sufficient to stable top abilities. Fox desired to take larger swings to generate relationships and land exhibits that might maybe also contrivance it to syndication, Walden argued. A spokesperson for Walden confirmed the particulars of the presentation.

When the retreat ended, Chernin known as Peter Roth, then president of 20th Century Fox Tv, who later ran Warner Bros.’ TV division.

“The next day to come she modified into in my place of work, and we gave her a job in programming,” Roth said in an interview.

That situation Walden on a profession route correction that’s led her to your doorstep of fixing into Iger’s successor.

Peter Chernin

Getty Photos for Malaria No Extra 2013

Walden, co-chair of Disney Leisure, is competing internally with Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro, and Alan Bergman, who’s Leisure co-chair with Walden, to be named the next CEO of Disney, said the opposite folks acquainted, who asked not to be named for the reason that discussions are inner most.

Iger plans to identify a successor and then stick around at Disney to coach that particular person the job earlier than departing at the pause of 2026, CNBC reported in September. He is combating to sustain preserve watch over of Disney’s future against a likelihood from Trian Partners’ Nelson Peltz.

Peltz has argued he must aloof advantage spearhead a successor search, pondering about Iger has pushed advantage his retirement five times and returned to the job after Bob Chapek, named CEO in 2020, modified into fired in 2022. Peltz has claimed the Disney board cannot be depended on to form out succession. Disney shareholders will vote on Peltz’s candidacy to the board at its annual assembly Wednesday.

Several executives at Disney privately told CNBC they suspect Walden, 59, is the favourite to land the pause job, although they’ve no internal data of the technique, and their proximity to Walden might maybe also simply skew their perception. Her relationship with Iger (she lives perfect blocks from his condominium in Brentwood, California), her music document of success as a TV government, her belief amongst Disney board contributors, and the symbolism about what it might maybe indicate to possess a female government all work in her desire.

“She’s the one easiest abilities exec to come out of TV within the final 20 years,” Chernin said in an interview.

“She would be CEO,” Roth added. “Fully excellent.”

Walden declined to comment for this epic. Extra than 20 colleagues and chums spoke with CNBC about her strengths, faults and the perceived likelihood she can take over for Iger.

Allies of Walden’s told CNBC she can not even focus on succession with them (although many said they tease her about it), deciding on to form out the job of running Disney Leisure with Bergman that she’s tasked with this present day.

She faces stiff competition within the different Disney division heads. Walden has spent the final three many years centered on producing TV hits. She hasn’t had the equivalent differ of duties as Pitaro, who has bustle the company’s sports activities media empire since 2018. And she has no experience running parks and accommodations, which Iger and the board might maybe also simply resolve is extra foremost to Disney’s future than a TV commerce with hazy monetary prospects within the streaming generation.

Six frail colleagues — all of whom worked closely with Walden — privately questioned her commerce acumen in interviews with CNBC.

“There are other folks that are in artistic positions that upward push to a level of management who figure out what a P&L [profit and loss] pronounce is, what a steadiness sheet is, what quarterly earnings are,” said one amongst the opposite folks, who asked to remain anonymous to focus on candidly. “Dana doesn’t basically effort with any of that.”

A 2d frail coworker said Walden’s profile simply doesn’t translate to changing into the Disney CEO — a job that involves shut investor interplay, geopolitical affords for parks and accommodations, and strategic pondering around acquisition and funding.

“She’ll be eaten up by exact merchants,” said the actual person, who likewise requested anonymity. “Does she possess the wanted depth of commerce data? She can study, nonetheless it is probably you’ll maybe’t possess any individual educate you many years of finance, commerce and ways in a 300 and sixty five days or two.”

Walden supporters brushed off these concerns as either simply mistaken or an example of continual stereotypes against female executives. Walden has met with many institutional merchants through her years at Disney, constant with other folks conversant within the topic.

“There might maybe be something about taking a gape at female mavens where questions are asked that might maybe by no manner be asked of males,” said Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios and a frail colleague of Walden’s. “Can they scale? Can a artistic particular person be a commerce leader? I obtain that to be an huge bugaboo. She’s responsible of billions of greenbacks of assets, nonetheless she’s not capable of being a commerce leader?”

Jennifer Salke

Stephen Desaulniers | CNBC

Walden defenders brush off criticism from ex-Disney colleagues because the remnants of a grudge against Fox workers who came visiting as section of Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of Fox’s leisure assets in 2019, and at the same time as section of an ulterior motive to diminish her CEO prospects in desire of their private preferred candidates.

“In some unspecified time in the future, everyone running the leisure modified into something earlier than that,” Chernin said. “Anyone they resolve will possess by no manner been the Disney CEO earlier than that.”

Hollywood ties

Chernin and Walden both started their careers in public members of the family, making them two of a minute membership of TV executives who started that manner — frail HBO head Richard Plepler is one more exception. Chernin seen Walden’s background as a energy, relatively than a weak point.

“She knows nothing is extra crucial to a studio than abilities relationships,” said Craig Hunegs, who worked closely with Walden when he modified into president of Disney TV Studios from 2019 to 2021.

Walden’s entire existence has ties to Hollywood. She grew up modestly in Studio City, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, and attended the inner most Westlake School for Ladies (a predecessor of the student Harvard-Westlake School), where she became friendly with Carol Burnett’s daughter Carrie Hamilton.

Walden’s other folks made connections within the leisure commerce from their time living in Las Vegas, where her mother modified into a background dancer who performed with George Burns, amongst different artists. Her father became a member of The Friars Club, notorious for its Dean Martin celeb roasts, and established friendships with entertainers including Martin and Buddy Hackett. Walden spent her childhood years with celebrities as family chums, attending dinner events and as soon as in a whereas celebrating holidays at their houses. She went on to marry a member of the leisure commerce, producer Matt Walden, in 1995; they’ve two daughters, now of their 20s.

After graduating from the College of Southern California, Walden took a job working for public members of the family company Bender, Goldman & Helper, starting out as a receptionist and an assistant. Interior four years, she’d turn into a vp.

At Bender, she represented “The Arsenio Hall Demonstrate” on behalf of her shopper Paramount. The indicate poached Walden to come work as head of promoting for Hall’s production company. Lower than a 300 and sixty five days later, Lucie Sulhany, president of Paramount Home Tv, took a job as a excessive-ranking Fox TV government. She asked Walden to come along and work in publicity, and Walden joined her with an undercover agent in direction of lastly making TV exhibits.

Dana Walden

Jason Laveris | Filmmagic | Getty Photos

Mastering the TV commerce

At Fox, Walden and fellow TV government Gary Newman collectively started running the studio commerce — the engine of the company that makes series both for itself and different networks. Starting in 1999, they saved that jam for the next 15 years till they were promoted to bustle all of Fox Broadcasting in 2014.

A frail approved professional, Newman started his partnership with Walden dealing with quite loads of the commerce factors, whereas Walden developed a reputation for successful over artistic abilities and having impeccable model for both dramas and comedies.

“Folks frail to droll epic we were work spouses,” Newman said in an interview. “She modified into very exact at the job very fleet. Or not it is perfect a combination of being orderly, being basically hastily, being inspiring, being plucky.”

Over time, Walden mastered the commerce facet of TV, constant with Newman and others who possess worked with her.

“The distinction between Dana within the starting of our partnership, when she leaned on her artistic background, and where she modified into a few years later modified into evening and day,” Newman said. “She picked up what she desired to safe about commerce. I had a surgical plan at one point — the accountability fell on Dana to be in there for me. That incorporated being responsible of the commerce facet of issues.”

Newman recounted one advanced negotiation over a Fox-produced indicate with CBS. It modified into the day earlier than CBS would voice its drop schedule, and it wasn’t particular if the printed community would safe the series. CBS gave Newman and Walden a midnight closing date to revise a deal on its phrases or it might maybe cancel the indicate. Walden told Newman that CBS modified into bluffing, realizing the indicate modified into the linchpin for different programming that day. She persuaded Fox to simply ignore the closing date. The next day to come, CBS incorporated the series, proving Walden moral.

“I don’t know if she performs poker, nonetheless she’d be a mammoth poker player,” Newman said.

Dana Walden, Ryan Murphy, Bob Iger, and FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf, from left, support the premiere of Murphy’s miniature series “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” Jan. 23, 2024.

Credit: Disney

Fox’s studio started churning out hits, including “24,” “Fatherland,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Standard Household,” “Right here’s Us,” “New Girl,” “Bob’s Burgers,” and mini-empires created by Seth MacFarlane (“Household Guy,” “American Dad,” “The Cleveland Demonstrate”) and Ryan Murphy (“Nip/Tuck,” “Glee,” “American Horror Chronicle,” “9-1-1”).

Walden started making lasting relationships with TV showrunners and producers who possess time and again worked with her, including MacFarlane, Murphy, “Standard Household” co-creator Steve Levitan and “Right here’s Us” creator Dan Fogelman. She earned a reputation for her artistic notes on scripts, particularly on shaping “24,” an unusually constructed drama that ran from 2001 to 2014 and earned excessive reward for its storytelling ways, constant with Rick Rosen, a partner and head of TV of the abilities company WME .

“Folks felt her notes and positive criticisms helped race that indicate forward,” recounted Rosen, who represented Howard Gordon, at one time the “24” showrunner. “She helped earn it unstuck.”

Walden’s model, her self-discipline around getting abilities to ship on budget, and her honesty about what’s working and what’s not possess situation her moreover different executives, constant with Levitan.

“Hollywood is a commerce of relationships,” Levitan said. “What it is probably you’ll maybe’t educate any individual is inspire other folks. She is whip orderly. If there might maybe be a subject that she needs to take a deep dive on, she’s going to be an professional in that subject earlier than you know it.”

Becoming a member of Disney

Disney’s acquisition of Fox moved Walden to a brand fresh company with a brand fresh custom. Iger known as Walden on the day of the deal’s announcement in December 2017 to let her know he wanted her to come to Disney, constant with other folks conversant within the topic. Newman planned to pause at Fox; he within the kill exited the company in 2018.

Walden hoped she’d bustle Disney’s TV unit as an instantaneous file to Iger, constant with other folks accustomed to her pondering at the time. Nevertheless Iger wanted Peter Rice, Walden’s boss at Fox, for the pause job. Handed over, Walden regarded as strolling faraway from both Disney and the studio she helped contrivance for different opportunities, the opposite folks said.

Silent, she had a solid relationship with Rice, who within the kill persuaded her to pause with out reference to her disappointment. Walden lastly took Rice’s job when Disney fired him in 2022 after Chapek and some contributors of the Disney board concluded he wasn’t a team player, particularly noting that he’d privately criticized the company’s messaging around Florida’s controversial “Scheme not Hiss Homosexual” regulations, constant with other folks conversant within the topic. Chapek told Rice he wasn’t a custom match with out reference to years of Rice receiving certain feedback, the opposite folks said. A Disney spokesman and Rice declined to comment.

“The conversations around selling a series — licensing costs, profit participation, residuals — or discussions about budgets, and how many customer stars we can signal, or which platform a series must aloof air on … all of that I’ve performed straight with Dana,” said Rich Appel, the federal government producer and co-showrunner of “Household Guy.” “No disrespect to Gary [Newman], nonetheless for the past few years, it be easiest been Dana.”

At Disney, Walden has hit quite loads of house runs, including FX’s “The Endure,” Hulu’s “The Dropout” and “Most moving Murders within the Constructing,” and ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” She has heavily invested in advertising and marketing and marketing kids’s indicate “Bluey,” which in 2024 has spent time as the most-watched indicate on all streaming companies and products. She has also centered on constructing up Disney+’s family programming with originals including “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” “Spidey and His Phenomenal Chums” and “Goosebumps.”

Silent, critics issue it be easy to cherry-pick the successes and ignore the failures. One Disney insider said that grading Walden’s efficiency if truth be told would require a sturdy prognosis of the entire exhibits she’s greenlit.

The anti-Chapek

The final time Iger chose a successor, it did not race smartly. As outlined by CNBC in 2023, the connection between Chapek and Iger, who remained Disney’s government chairman till the pause of 2021, fell apart, and the Disney board within the kill fired Chapek and introduced Iger advantage decrease than three years later.

Iger returned as CEO in section to moral the unfriendly he believed he made by deciding on Chapek as his successor, constant with other folks accustomed to his pondering. If he’s wanting for the anti-Chapek candidate, Walden suits the outline.

Feeble Disney CEO Bob Chapek


Chapek climbed the corporate ladder at Disney for 30 years by showcasing his commerce and finance chops. He studied microbiology at Indiana College and got his MBA from Michigan Reveal College. He developed abilities within the minute particulars of Disney’s parks and accommodations, akin to how particular hotel discounts might maybe also possess an ticket on park attendance and the cost elasticity of seasonal ticket price adjustments.

Nevertheless he had nearly no Hollywood relationships. Without a basis of belief, “The Town,” as Hollywood is identified, became on Chapek. Brokers, producers and showrunners blamed him for Disney’s forceful public rebuke of A-list smartly-known particular person Scarlett Johansson in a Covid pandemic-connected contract dispute and for bungling the company’s response to “Scheme not Hiss Homosexual,” as CNBC reported in 2023.

Walden’s resume sets her up as Chapek’s inverse: a Disney outsider whose Hollywood ties are amongst the most easy within the commerce. Within the latter months of Chapek’s tenure as CEO, as CNBC reported, Disney communications head Kristina Schake started establishing meetings for Chapek with Hollywood’s energy gamers — at Walden’s condominium.

A probably handover from Iger to Walden would also stumble on very different from the Iger-Chapek transition, predicted United Talent Agency Vice Chairman Jay Sures, a shut friend of Walden’s. Chapek seen Iger as a likelihood to his energy, constant with other folks accustomed to his pondering at the time. Walden would pause shut to Iger for as long as probably, Sures said.

“When Bob Chapek got the job, he couldn’t await Bob Iger to race away. If Dana ever got the job, she’s gonna apprehension the day Bob Iger leaves,” Sures said. “She values the flexibility and leadership he brings. She knows a exact thing when she sees it.”

Combating female stereotypes

If Walden were appointed CEO, she regularly is the principle lady to bustle the century-frail company. Some shut to Iger issue he would stumble on fondly on being the actual person to study rupture the glass ceiling.

Amazon’s Salke said she’s had quite loads of discussions over time with Walden about dwell on within the male-dominated leisure world. It requires a deftness of character and ability to preserve faraway from enemies, said Salke.

“I watched ‘Barbie,'” said Salke, referencing the Greta Gerwig-created hit 2023 movie that skewers facets of unique patriarchy. “That speech from The US Ferrera’s character [Gloria], it be exact. Or not it might maybe be foremost to be likable nonetheless not too likable. If you’re too likable, that’s seen as threatening to males.”

Whereas Walden has crossed a bridge to turn into shut chums with a desire of her professional colleagues (she’s the godmother of Murphy’s kids), she is attuned to her image in methods male executives set not want to anxiousness about, constant with other folks accustomed to her personality.

Even when the dignity is nonthreatening, Walden is conscious that her look might maybe also be judged as readily as her commerce efficiency, the opposite folks said.

“Once I first met her, the writers would search Dana stroll by every so often, and we frail to call her ‘Why Omit Jones,'” Levitan said. “Because she’d wear these glasses. So it modified into handle in frail Hollywood motion images, when an actress would take off her glasses and one amongst the characters would issue, ‘Why, Omit Jones! You’re magnificent!'”

Levitan later became shut chums with Walden and praised her professionalism. Of veil, he cited final 300 and sixty five days’s cancellation of “Reboot,” a indicate he created for Hulu.

“I don’t have confidence the choice that modified into made there, and I don’t agree that it got a beautiful shake,” Levitan said. “Nevertheless Dana and I talked about it. She took me through her causes. And it be a accurate dialog. There might maybe be a motive other folks are vivid effusive about the vogue Dana handles herself. Or not this is because she if truth be told goes out of her manner to treat other folks with decency.”

Steve Levitan

Peter “Hopper” Stone | Getty Photos

Walden and her team possess a reputation for sending birthday gifts to Hollywood’s movers and shakers and bottles of champagne to them when their exhibits premiere. Supporters glimpse it as relationship-constructing. Critics said her actions typically border on corporate largesse.

Walden herself has joked that she modified into “raised by wolves” at Fox, and that she’s had to consciously regulate to the extra toned-down Disney custom staunch during the final five years, constant with other folks accustomed to her pondering.

She’s also had to toe a line between stereotype and successful government. Of the 20 other folks interviewed for this epic, simply about every physique of them known as Walden “advise” and “stressful.”

“Consuming elbows, moral?” Salke said, expecting the hackneyed criticism of female leaders. “So time and again Dana and I basically possess been the most easy females within the room. Can she be stressful and sustain other folks to a excessive bar? Sure. Nevertheless males come on in, and the principle thing they set is fire other folks, and no-one bats an undercover agent.”

Walden’s champions notorious that each and every successful government is stressful of excellence, and said her directness is a predominant energy that separates her from many different TV executives.

“She can even be ‘commerce’ not easy,” said WME’s Rosen. “No person likes to ship immoral news. A indicate is canceled, or it be over budget, or this challenge did not work. Nevertheless she’s not harsh. You are feeling handle she’s coming from a situation of optimism — let’s figure out where we race from here.”

The final pick

Whereas the Disney board will possess the final issue on the company’s next CEO, Iger will likely be the exact decision-maker, given his ancient past at the company, space amongst board contributors, and data of the job.

“The importance of the succession route of cannot be overstated, and because the Board continues to overview a extremely licensed slate of inner and exterior candidates, I remain intensely centered on a successful transition,” Iger said in an announcement in 2023 when he renewed his contract as CEO to the pause of 2026.

Even supposing Iger agrees with some of Walden’s critics about whether her strengths will particularly match the pause job at Disney, it be probably his recollection of his private experience being chosen as CEO in 2005 might maybe also affect his decision.

“Return and stumble on at the articles that were written about Bob Iger,” Sures said. “I modified into chums with Bob then. It modified into a quantity of ’empty suit’ — a exact-taking a gape, mammoth man who by no manner had any experience within the movie commerce and by no manner did the leisure in M&A [mergers and acquisitions] earlier than in his existence. Nineteen years later, he’s one amongst the very most sensible, if not the very most sensible CEO the leisure commerce has ever seen.”

“The same issues are being said about Dana now,” Sures said.

Iger and the board’s change for a successor might maybe also simply within the kill come all the vogue down to the direction they envision for Disney.

D’Amaro might maybe also be the need if they resolve the parks are the very most sensible section of the company’s future. Pitaro looks logical if ESPN and its upcoming digital transformation are seen as an foremost section of Disney’s future, versus its past. Both Walden or Bergman might maybe also be the need if artistic model and relationships trump all, although Bergman’s fresh troubles with Disney’s movie division might maybe also be a knock against them.

Silent, Chernin said it be a mistake to glimpse Disney so simply. The magic of the company is how the entire facets engage with each and every different, relatively than emphasizing one unit over all others, he said.

“The commerce is changing so abruptly. That company goes to alternate so well-known,” Chernin said. “Somebody goes to possess to factor in what a media company of the long term appears to be like handle. Bob [Iger] goes through that moral now. He is actively spending each day pondering that through. An extraordinarily well-known section of that company is ongoing relationships with customers.”

WATCH: Who’re the main candidates to change Bob Iger as Disney’s next CEO?

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