Robert A. Iger, a loyal lieutenant of Walt Disney Co. chief executive Michael D. Eisner and his preferred successor, will replace the often-controversial head of the entertainment company after Eisner retires in September, the Disney board said yesterday.
Eisner, 63, built Disney from a company known for its animated films and theme parks into a media empire comparable to Viacom Inc. and Time Warner Inc. Iger is expected to draw on his interests in Asia and technology to expand Disney's empire there.
As president, Robert A. Iger was considered approachable by Disney employees and well-regarded on Wall Street.
(Tim Shaffer -- Reuters)
Iger, 54, has spent much of the past five years as Disney's president "quietly exploring" the Asian market, Anne Sweeney, Disney-ABC Television group president, said in an interview yesterday. In September, Iger is to open Hong Kong Disneyland. Disney recently launched two television channels in India.
Along with its theme parks, Disney owns the ABC and ESPN television networks; the Disney, Buena Vista and Miramax movie studios; a consumer products division and several television and radio stations.
The Iger announcement came one year after nearly half of all company shareholders, led by former director and Walt Disney nephew Roy E. Disney, voted for Eisner's ouster, claiming that a series of bad decisions and a compliant board of directors had driven down company profits. Eisner became chief executive in 1984.
The breakaway shareholders pushed for an outside replacement and assembled a wish list of superstar media moguls, including NewsCorp.'s president, Peter Chernin, and Viacom Inc.'s co-presidents, Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston. The shareholders said Iger was too closely linked to Eisner.
Strong earnings in 2004 largely quashed the rebellion and 92 percent of shareholders voted to return Eisner as chief executive at this year's annual meeting, which was held last month. Iger's selection as chief executive emphasizes the company's belief that it is heading in the right direction and signals a strategic victory for Eisner over his external foes.
Iger, a triathlete married to CNN anchor Willow Bay, began his career at ABC in 1974, rising to network president in 1994, overseeing hits such as "Roseanne" and "Home Improvement." Iger joined Disney after it acquired the network in 1996.
In contrast to the mercurial, polarizing and well-known Eisner, who was a host of television's "The Wonderful World of Disney," Iger is a low-key manager and steady personality. Iger is considered approachable by employees and well-regarded on Wall Street, but largely is unknown to the public.
Gabelli Asset Management Inc. analyst Lawrence J. Haverty Jr. has known both executives for years and called Iger a strong manager.