As Disney endures transitions, Kathy Kennedy’s leadership at Lucasfilm is as important as ever

We are just days away from a pretty significant moment for the Walt Disney Company, as Bob Iger is officially stepping down as Executive Chairman of the Board on December 21, 2021. Iger will be succeeded as Chairman by longtime board member Susan Arnold.

Iger is one of the most accomplished executives in Disney’s storied history. Iger spent many years working for ABC before becoming Disney’s President and COO in 2000, a role he held until, in 2005, he took over as the company’s next CEO. Over the next 15 years, Iger brought new life to the famous company, building it into the juggernaut it is today by purchasing Pixar (in 2006), Marvel Entertainment (in 2009), Lucasfilm (in 2012), and 21st Century Fox (in 2019), while also kick-starting renewed life for Disney’s own animation and live-action studios. Plus, Iger oversaw the opening of new Disney theme parks in Hong Kong (in 2005) and Shanghai (in 2016), along with the launch of Disney’s much-hyped streaming service Disney+ (in 2019) – and that was after he helped lead the way in putting video content on iTunes in 2005 and launched ESPN Plus in 2018. He is one of the most successful and most respected executives of our day, and his impact on Disney should not be ignored or overlooked.

Many today view Disney as some massive, unstoppable entertainment giant, and it pretty much is – but that’s because of Iger’s leadership over the last 15 years. According to Variety, under Iger’s leadership “Disney’s value has shot up nearly five times what it was when Iger took over: Its market cap increased from $48.5 billion to $240 billion — close to a 400% increase.”

But he’s officially stepping down at the end of the month. He stepped down from his role as CEO in February of 2020, with former Disney Parks Charirman Bob Chapek taking over as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. But just two months later, in April of 2020, it was revealed that Iger had resumed control of the company’s operations as Executive Chairman, returning to help lead Disney through the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Iger now officially leaves, it seems so too are some of the investors, wondering about Disney’s future for the first time in a while.

And all of this suggests, to me, that Kathy Kennedy’s leadership at Lucasfilm is going to be as important as ever in the season ahead. She reportedly recently signed a three-year contract extension to remain President of Lucasfilm, and that’s to be expected, considering the massive success the Star Wars franchise has had under her leadership as the personally-chosen successor to George Lucas. Kennedy already led the company through the Disney acquisition, and now she’ll lead the company through the Disney transition.

Disney’s Chief Creative Officer Alan Horn, who has worked closely alongside Iger and Kennedy (and other studio heads) to oversee content production, is retiring at the end of the year, one of many departures alongside Iger. It also comes as Chapek has changed some of the structure around in the company, creating the Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, led by Kareem Daniel, which makes the major decisions on whether to begin production on a film or where a new series should air and other things like that. As Bloomberg’s Christopher Palmeri writes, “While centralizing decision-making at a time when the company is focusing on streaming could be viewed as a wise move, the reorganization took authority away from the TV and film executives who were the traditional gatekeepers.”

In other words, what this means is that amidst all the uncertainty facing the world as the pandemic still rages, Disney is transitioning to new leadership and thus apparently has new people and systems deciding which projects to actually make. So now, just like in 2012, Lucasfilm needs a leader who is able to work with these other executives and studios and navigate these things while still making quality projects. And Kathy Kennedy is as good as it gets at that, having made her career as one of Hollywood’s most successful and accomplished producers in history.

Kennedy will continue to be involved in Star Wars projects, as she should be. And she has a great team to do it, including Lucasfilm Executive Creative Director Dave Filoni – someone who Kennedy consults on all storytelling matters. But a huge part of her job is working with the studios, executives, and employees to ensure that Lucasfilm’s projects get made and get enough resources.

I have a feeling that in the months ahead, her impact, experience, reputation, and leadership will be as important as they’ve ever been at Lucasfilm. And I’m very thankful she’s the one leading the company through this period.

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