Disney announced on Friday that a plan had been made for Robert Iger to step down as chief executive in March 2015. According to the new contract with Iger, the chief executive will be named chairman in March 2012. Then, after stepping down from his current role, Iger will have the new title of executive chairman until June 30, 2016 when he leaves Disney entirely. There is no word on a replacement. However, Disney always promotes from within and Iger seems to be grooming two men for the job. In 2009, he made James A. Rasulo, then theme park chairman, and Thomas O. Staggs, then chief financial officer, switch places in order to have first-hand knowledge of both jobs.
It’s unusual for an entertainment company to announce such a change this far ahead of time yet it should bring stability to the changeover once a successor is named. This announcement should also relieve shareholder fears of a repeat of last time a head of Disney was replaced. In 2004, Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, led a shareholder coup that forced Michael Eisner to retire in 2005. Disney’s complaints ranged from Eisner abandoning the animation division to ripping out the company’s soul to refusing to establish a clear succession plan. Iger only had a few months of Eisner’s guidance amidst animosity and lawsuits involving the former CEO.
Iger was grandfathered into Disney. He made his start at the American Broadcasting Company in 1974 and rose through the ranks before becoming president in 1993. When ABC and ESPN were bought by Disney in 1996, Iger now found himself one of their employees. As ABC floundered in the ratings three years later, Disney moved him to president of Walt Disney International.
Iger’s reign as chief executive has been full of successes. Within a year of replacing Michael Eisner, Iger had bought Pixar and re-acquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt’s first creation. He also bought Marvel for Disney in 2009 and ESPN continues to flourish, insuring that Disney is more than just princesses. There have also been more and more strides internationally as they arranged a deal with the Chinese government to build a Disneyland in Shanghai, added two more Disney cruise ships to the fleet and more Disney Vacation Club opportunities, including Hawaii.
Since Iger took over, Disney has had four films reach the Top Ten Films of All Time for their gross with over a billion a piece. However, there have been problems. Under pressure from computer generated animated films, traditional animated films have underperformed. Disney is banking a lot of future success on rereleasing its older films in the new 3D format. Except for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Disney’s recent collaborations with Jerry Bruckheimer have been disappointments. Just weeks after Iger’s promotion to CEO, Harvey and Bob Weinstein announced their intention to leave Disney. Without their leadership, Miramax Films faltered and Disney sold it in 2010. ABC is once again losing in the ratings. They only have four shows with ratings high enough to be in the top 25 television programs and two of those are Dancing with the Stars.