- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Iger will inherit a prospering company when he takes over as Disney chief executive officer from Michael Eisner — as well as a myriad of problems ranging from shareholder discontent to mending bridges burned by his mercurial predecessor and supporter.

He also will have to establish his own identity at the theme park and entertainment conglomerate, which has had the same high-profile, celebrity leader for over 10 years.

Still, analysts said, Mr. Iger’s appointment lifts a heavy cloud from the Walt Disney Co., which had come under intensifying pressure to appoint a successor to the 63-year-old Mr. Eisner.

With the company delivering strong earnings growth and experiencing positive momentum at its theme parks and ABC network, choosing the diplomatic Mr. Iger, a company veteran and Eisner favorite, over an outsider to replace the prickly Mr. Eisner made sense. Disney also had considered Internet auctioneer EBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman for the job.

“They all know him there. He doesn’t have to posture,” said Harold Vogel of Vogel Capital Management. “He’s generally well-liked and therefore will have a different style and people will respond differently.”

Unlike an outside candidate, however, Mr. Iger, 54, will not have the luxury of a honeymoon, analysts said.

“He’s in the role right now, at least initially, of putting out some of the anger and bitterness that accompanied the last few years and getting the long-term strategy in the right direction,” Mr. Vogel said.

Mr. Iger has spent much of his career as second-in-command, leading parts of large companies, never the whole — but analysts aren’t worried.

Mr. Iger has worked at ABC or Disney for 30 years, and knows the company top to bottom, they say.

Mr. Iger formally takes over Oct. 1 from Mr. Eisner, who will end his tenure after 21 years. Mr. Eisner will remain on the board until his term expires in early 2006 and Disney will pay him through Sept. 30, 2006, when his contract expires.

Mr. Iger has spent the past year making it clear he will be a different leader than Mr. Eisner, a notorious micromanager.

In appearances at analyst conferences over the past few months, Mr. Iger has said he will encourage a more entrepreneurial atmosphere at the company, allowing executives more room to take risks.

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation,” Mr. Iger said at a January conference. “The most important thing for any CEO is to respect that.”

Disney did not respond to requests to interview Mr. Iger for this story.

News of Mr. Iger’s appointment was welcomed inside Disney, where several employees interviewed yesterday expressed relief.

“He not only has a broad knowledge of the company, but a broad knowledge of the employees — who they are, what they do, what they’re interested in,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney’s Media Networks group, which includes ABC. “That’s why I believe the news was so well received.”

The first test of Mr. Iger’s leadership may be negotiating a new deal with Pixar Animation Studios, the creator of such hits as the recent Oscar-winner “The Incredibles.”

Pixar’s CEO, Steve Jobs, has said he would wait to start serious talks with studios to distribute his films until after Disney chose Mr. Eisner’s successor.

Mr. Jobs could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Disney also is involved in talks to renew its deal with the National Football League. ABC’s “Monday Night Football” regularly loses money airing the games.

But Disney’s ESPN cable-channel profits because it collects revenue from both advertising and fees from cable operators.

That is one area where Mr. Iger’s 12 years of experience working at ABC Sports could help.

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