Iger to Succeed Eisner as Disney CEO
Eisner, 63, said he would retire as CEO on Sept. 30, 2005, a year earlier than he had planned. The selection of Iger, 54, caps more than a year of controversy over Disney's future and Eisner's leadership.
Dissident shareholders and former directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold said in a letter the board had failed to find outside candidates and handed Iger the job "by default."
Disney Chairman George Mitchell defended the selection process, saying the board had discussed the job with a number of candidates.
"We definitely had choices -- we made the right choice," Mitchell told reporters on a conference call.
Iger had been the front runner and was Eisner's preferred choice to succeed him, but the timing of the announcement was sooner than expected since the board had set a June 2005 target to find a new chief.
Iger has been president and chief operating officer of the company since January 2000. His career started at ABC in 1974 in New York as a studio supervisor. He joined Disney after the company acquired Capital Cities/ABC in 1996.
Gold and Disney, who had helped spark a 2004 shareholder revolt that led to Eisner's losing the title of chairman, said on Sunday that shareholders should "seriously consider replacing this board and starting anew."
Eisner has been chief executive of Walt Disney since 1984.
After strong growth through the 1980s and early 1990s, Eisner was criticized for overpaying for the Fox Family Channel and had contentious business dealings with key partners that had helped Disney's recent results.
Pixar Animation Studios Inc.<PIXR.O>, the maker of "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles," is ending its partnership with Disney and looking for a new distributor for its films.
Eisner and Miramax Films co-chief executive Harvey Weinstein feuded over pay and accounting for profitability at the Disney division responsible for Oscar-winning films such as "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love."
Eisner said he would not seek to be renominated to the board after the 2006 annual meeting or seek the job of chairman.
Mitchell said major investors overwhelmingly supported the choice of Iger.
Meg Whitman, eBay Inc.'s chief executive, had bowed out of the race, according to newspaper reports.
Other executives considered as potential candidates included Peter Chernin, the chief operating officer of News Corp.<NWS.N>; Viacom Inc. <VIAb.N> co-presidents Tom Freston and Leslie Moonves and Yahoo Inc.<YHOO.O> Chief Executive Terry Semel.
Last week Disney and Gold said the board was subverting the search for a new chief executive by allowing Eisner to participate in meetings with candidates.
"The allegation is completely false," Mitchell told reporters, saying Eisner's contact with candidates amounted to part of one meeting with one executive from outside Disney. (Additional reporting by William Borden in New York and Duncan Martell in Oakland)
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