Disney (DIS) Corporate Affairs Officer Leaves Amid Political Turmoil

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) parted ways last week with its senior communications and government relations officer following a tenure of just four months. Geoff Morrell was named the company's chief corporate affairs officer in December.

Disney has made headlines during Morrell's tenure for a contentious battle between the entertainment conglomerate and Florida politicians. In late April, Florida legislators voted to remove Disney's self-governing status for its Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando. The move came after a protracted dispute regarding Disney's opposition to Florida's HB 1557 law, commonly known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Key Takeaways

  • Disney's chief corporate affairs officer Geoff Morrell is leaving the company after being appointed to the new position in December 2021.
  • During Morrell's tenure, Disney has faced a highly publicized back-and-forth regarding its position on Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill, which culminated in Florida lawmakers removing the special tax status for the Walt Disney World theme park.
  • It is unclear how Disney's shift in leadership may affect the company's approach to the ongoing dispute.

Disney to Return to Old Structure

Morrell's position was newly created upon his hiring and combined functions across communications, policy, government relations, and other areas. Disney CEO Bob Chapek will reportedly not replace Morrell but will revert to the company's prior structure. Kristina Schake, who held leadership positions at Instagram and served in the Obama and Biden administrations, will be the company's top communications executive.

Implications for Disney Strategy Going Forward

The change in leadership could signal a shift in Disney's approach to the ongoing political fiasco. External developments could prompt a change in approach as well. Residents of Florida's Osceola County, which is adjacent to the Disney World theme park, have sued Florida governor Ron DeSantis, claiming that he violated their rights when he signed the law dissolving Disney's special tax district. The suit alleges that Florida taxpayers will be saddled with more than $1 billion in Disney's bond debt upon dissolution of the district.

Disney, which has emerged as a defensive player in recent weeks with its special tax status under attack, could use the opportunity to shift the narrative. For the time being, though, the company has remained silent regarding the lawsuit and other recent developments. The ongoing incident could also be a signal to other top executives across industries that employees and politicians alike may expect corporations to take a public position regarding a variety of social issues.

What Is Happening With Disney Leadership?

Disney's chief corporate affairs officer Geoff Morrell is parting ways with the company after just four months. Kristina Schake will take over as head of communications for Disney.

Why the Quick Turnover?

Morrell's tenure was dominated by ongoing disputes between Disney and Florida politicians regarding the company's shifting stance on Florida's HB 1557 law, known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The change in leadership could indicate a shift in Disney's approach to the contentious situation.

What Else Is Going on With Disney and Florida?

Florida lawmakers voted to remove Disney's special tax status for the Disney World theme park in Orlando in late April. There is an unresolved question about what will happen with more than $1 billion in Disney's bond debt. A group of Florida residents have sued the governor, claiming that the move will burden them with this debt.

Article Sources
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  1. The New York Times. "Disney's Top Communications Executive Is Out After Less Than Four Months."

  2. The Walt Disney Co. "The Walt Disney Company Names Geoff Morrell as Chief Corporate Affairs Officer."

  3. CNBC. "Disney Vows to Help Repeal 'Don't Say Gay' Law, Says Florida Gov. DeSantis Shouldn't Have Signed It."

  4. The Walt Disney Co. "Kristina Schake Named Executive Vice President, Global Communications of the Walt Disney Company."

  5. Hollywood Reporter. "Florida Taxpayers Sue Gov. Ron DeSantis for Eliminating Disney’s Special District."

  6. Yahoo! Finance. "Disney vs. DeSantis: Chapek's 'Don't Say Gay' Fumble a Warning to CEOs, Says Harvard Professor."

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