Two top Walt Disney Co. executives — including the company's hard-charging, longtime public relations chief Zenia Mucha — will leave the company early next year, marking the latest moves in a broader changing of the guard at the world's largest entertainment company.
Mucha, Disney's chief communications officer who has led its robust PR machine for nearly two decades, announced Tuesday that she had decided to not renew her employment contract when it expires at the end of this year. General counsel Alan Braverman, who has served as Disney's top lawyer since 2003, will also exit at year's end when his contract expires.
The departures of the two longtime executives come as the Burbank behemoth is in the midst of a major leadership transition, with Executive Chairman Bob Iger set to depart at the end of the year.
Iger, who had served as CEO for 15 years, in February 2020 handed the reins to Bob Chapek, who previously led the lucrative parks and experiences division.
The company's stock has risen to lofty levels in the last year, driven by the success of its Disney+ streaming service, a rebound in the theme park business and the strength of its Marvel, Pixar and "Star Wars" franchises.
Disney did not name replacements for Mucha and Braverman, 73, who joined the company in 1995.
Mucha's and Braverman's exits follow the departure of other prominent executives, including the respected leaders of Searchlight Pictures, the specialty film label Disney acquired as part of its 2019 purchase of 21st Century Fox assets. Searchlight Pictures chairs Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley led the Oscar-winning indie film powerhouse for two decades.
Ricky Strauss, a nine-year Disney executive who most recently was head of programming and content curation for Disney’s streaming division, stepped down in January. And last year, the company lost senior executive Kevin Mayer, the architect of Disney+, after he was passed over for the top job.
The departure of Mucha, known for her bare-knuckle style of dealing with members of the media, marks an end of an era for Disney's formidable PR operation.
She served three executive administrations, joining the company in 2001 as senior vice president of the struggling ABC network before moving into the big job as Disney's chief communications officer in 2002. Her tenure began near the end of the tumultuous Michael Eisner era, and she transitioned to Iger's reign in 2005, becoming one of his most trusted advisors. By stepping down by Jan. 1, Mucha will allow her latest boss, Chapek, to form his own team.
Chapek has put his own stamp on the company since taking over, with a major restructuring to center Disney's media and entertainment businesses on streaming to better compete with Netflix. The corporate overhaul has resulted in some high-level executive churn at the company's divisions.
Mucha, who declined to be interviewed, has long been a ubiquitous presence among Disney's top brass, guiding the company through various crises, including a 2004 hostile takeover attempt by Comcast Corp., a subsequent bruising battle with shareholders who wanted Eisner forced out and countless controversies involving talent, such as Roseanne Barr's racist tweets. She also is one of Disney's corporate officers, with a compensation package that totaled $4.9 million in fiscal 2020.
Most recently, Disney has faced massive challenges as it attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated the Burbank company's theme parks and studio businesses. Meanwhile, the company has been dramatically shifting its business model to focus on streaming, with direct-to-consumer services including Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
In her note to employees, Mucha cited the pandemic as "the most difficult period" of her career. The 65-year-old executive did not say what she planned to do next, although she has told friends that she plans to spend time decompressing and considering her next venture.
"For many of us, the challenges of living and working in an era of lockdowns and quarantines brought an unexpected hidden blessing: the opportunity to gain new perspective about what’s truly 'essential,' what matters most, and how we each want to move forward in light of these insights," she wrote.
"And after thinking about my own life, I was surprised by the realization that, after a long career in roles that have required a 24/7 commitment, what I want most these days is the freedom to focus on other priorities — all the things I always wanted to do with family and friends but simply never had time for," Mucha wrote.
Iger and Chapek, in a joint email, credited Braverman and Mucha with playing "integral roles in Disney’s expansion and transformation into the digital age," including the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox; the creation of Disney's first theme park in mainland China; and the launch of its direct-to-consumer business.
"One of the most rewarding aspects of our tenure at Disney has been the opportunity to work with so many incredibly talented and generous people, and Zenia and Alan are foremost among them — both have been steadfast, independent-minded, passionate about their work, generous with their wisdom, and thoroughly unselfish," Iger and Chapek wrote.
Mucha came to Disney after a career in New York's rough-and-tumble politics. As one of New York Gov. George E. Pataki’s top aides in the 1990s, Mucha developed a reputation for an in-your-face style that led her to be described in a 2004 Los Angeles Times story with such nicknames as “The Warrior Princess,” “Gov. Zenia” and “Director of Revenge.”
Disney's sometimes combative dealings with the media spilled into the open when the company, in a move decided by Iger, in 2017 barred The Times from media screenings of the studio's films after the paper's investigation into the company's business practices in Anaheim. The entertainment giant later reversed the decision after a social media outcry and what Disney called "productive conversations" with Times leaders.
Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.