- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

LOS ANGELES - The Walt Disney Co. said yesterday that its president, Robert Iger, will succeed Michael Eisner as chief executive after another top contender for the job dropped out of the running.

The company said Mr. Iger was elected unanimously by the board and will take charge Sept. 30. Mr. Eisner will step down on that day, a year earlier than he had previously announced, the company said.

“Bob is an experienced, talented and visionary leader who has made crucial and substantial contributions toward Disney’s strong performance,” Disney board Chairman George Mitchell said. “On behalf of the entire board, I want to express how excited we are at the prospect of Bob leading this extraordinary company and talented management team to new levels of financial and creative success in the years ahead.”

In a letter to the board, Mr. Eisner praised the decision and said he will not seek a nomination for another term on the board when his current term expires next year. Mr. Eisner also said he will not seek the board chairmanship after Mr. Mitchell retires.

Mr. Mitchell said the board chose Mr. Iger after a “lengthy, thorough and professional selection process, comparing both internal and external candidates against our criteria for CEO.”

EBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, who was competing with Mr. Iger for the CEO slot, withdrew her application Friday after interviewing with the Disney board earlier in the week, spokesman Henry Gomez said.

“She decided to stay at EBay,” Mr. Gomez said. “After considering it during the week, she decided she wanted to stay at EBay.”

Mr. Iger, 54, who also serves as chief operating officer, had been considered a front-runner for the post. He was president of Capital Cities/ABC when Disney bought the company in 1995, and went on to become president of the ABC Group and head of Walt Disney International. He was named president in 2000.

Mr. Eisner, who has been CEO since 1984, announced in September he would retire after his contract expires next year and had backed Mr. Iger as his successor. Disney officials, meanwhile, had said they planned to choose Mr. Eisner’s replacement by June and that Mr. Iger, along with candidates from outside the company, were being considered.

With the announcement, the board was expected to turn its attention to the search for a chairman. Mr. Mitchell, who will turn the board’s mandatory retirement age of 72 next year, has said he will not stand for re-election at the 2006 annual meeting.

Disney’s board first split the roles last year after shareholders delivered a stinging vote of no confidence in Mr. Eisner, who then held both titles.

Shareholders withheld 45 percent of their votes for his re-election to the board, a move that prompted the board to strip him of his chairmanship.

Yesterday’s decision came despite questions about the fairness of the succession process by corporate governance critics and dissident ex-board members Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, who sparked the shareholder revolt and lobbied unsuccessfully for Mr. Eisner’s ouster last year.

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