Walt Disney Co. chief executive Michael D. Eisner, who survived a shareholder rebellion aimed at his ouster earlier this year, will retire in 2006 when his current contract expires, the company announced today.
"It has been a fantastic Disney ride for the past twenty years," Eisner wrote in a letter sent to Disney's board of directors. "Ups and downs to be sure, but filled with great satisfaction in building this wonderful creator of classic American culture into one of the premiere [sic] entertainment oriented companies in the world.
"My affection for Disney will never retire," he wrote. His contract expires at the end of September 2006, coinciding with the end of Disney's fiscal year.
Possible successors include a number of Disney insiders, including company President Robert A. Iger (Eisner's preference), consumer products head Andy Mooney and Anne M. Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC television. Outsiders whose names have surfaced in recent months include NewsCorp President Peter Chernin, Viacom Inc. co-chief operating officer Leslie Moonves, Comcast Communications Corp. chief operating officer Steve Burke, a Disney veteran; and Mel Karmazin, who left his president's job at Viacom in June.
Eisner, 62, took over Disney in 1984 as chairman and chief executive. The company prospered during his first decade at the helm.
Disney stock traded at about $60 per share when Eisner was hired in September 1984, crested at more than $130 per share two years later and split three times, the last in 1998. It most recently peaked at $44 per share in early 2000 and then went into a nose-dive, bottoming out at less than $14 per share in 2002 before starting a steady climb back. It opened at $23.02 today.
The declining stock price fueled the shareholder rebellion, led by former directors Roy E. Disney, a nephew of Walt Disney, and his financial adviser, Stanley P. Gold, both of whom quit the Disney board nearly a year ago in protest of Eisner's management and what they said was a complicit board of directors that failed to stand up to him.
They led a shareholder rebellion that culminated at the company's annual meeting in Philadelphia on March 3, where 43 percent of Disney shareholders expressed no confidence in his leadership.
The night of the vote, the company stripped Eisner of his chairman's title and gave it to presiding director George J. Mitchell, also a target of the rebellion.
In February, cable giant Comcast made an unsolicited bid to buy Disney, which Eisner and the board rebuffed. Comcast withdrew its bid in April.