Robert Chapek was born on August 21, 1960 in Hammond, Indiana to a working mother and World War II veteran father. Because both of his parents worked, Chapek described himself as a "latch-key kid" at a time when this was uncommon and said that watching both of his parents do their job instilled an ethic in him to work hard for the nicer things in life. Additionally, his family visiting Walt Disney World on annual trips made a permanent impact on Chapek by inspiring and influencing him to work for Disney.
After graduating from Clark High School in 1977, Chapek later went on to get his bachelor's degree in microbiology at Indiana University Bloomington and his Master of Business Administration Degree at Michigan State University.
Chapek began his career with the Walt Disney Company in 1993 as the marketing director for the company's Buena Vista Home Entertainment division, which at that point was still very much focused on VHS tapes. The then-CEO Michael Eisner described Chapek by saying, "He was always an executive that you knew would be on the rise... He knew how to grow the business while adjusting to the changing marketplace, which was intense." Chapek is credited for bringing Disney's home entertainment division into the digital age, by focusing on releasing properties on DVD and later Blu-ray discs. As a result, he was promoted in July 2006 to become the president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which included all home video, DVD, and Blu-ray releases for all of the various division.
On February 23, 2015, Chapek was named chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts effective that day to replace Thomas O. Staggs, who was promoted to Disney Company Chief operating officer earlier in the month. Chapek immediately began working towards the completion and launch of Shanghai Disneyland in 2016, which hosted over 11 million guests in its first year of operation. He also oversaw the completion and launch of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2017. Chapek also directly managed the construction and opening of the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Chapek said of Galaxy's Edge, "It's the most immersive land we have ever built," citing the themed restaurants, shops and roaming interactive characters. Disney reportedly spent $1 billion on the sprawling 14-acre land in Disneyland in Anaheim, prompting CNN to comment that "Disney spared no expense."
As Chairman of Parks and Resorts, Chapek invested over $24 billion into the theme parks, attractions, hotels and cruise ships, which was more money than Disney spent in acquiring Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm combined. In the fall of 2017, after parks and resorts recorded at 14% increase in operating income, many in the media began to speculate that Chapek would likely succeed Bob Iger as the next Disney CEO. In February 2020, this speculation would become reality when Chapek was named chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company and replaced Bob Iger, who would remain as Executive Chairman until 2021. However, it was later revealed that Iger had resumed control of the company's operational duties while Chapek remained CEO for the time being, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.