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A Less Animated Leader at Disney

Next CEO Seen as Calm Businessman

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page E01

When Robert A. Iger takes over Walt Disney Co. in October, it will be the first time in many years that the entertainment giant will not have a chief executive who is as well-known as the company.

Whether the outgoing and outgoing Michael D. Eisner was hosting "The Wonderful World of Disney" or defending his job from angry shareholders or testifying in a Delaware courtroom about his friend and former president Michael S. Ovitz, Eisner has been a larger-than-life character, apt to say unpredictable things.


Robert A. Iger rose up through the ranks of ABC, which was acquired by Disney in 1996. (Jacqueline Larma -- AP)

_____Book World_____
Read Bob Woodward's review of James B. Stewart's "DisneyWar" (Feb. 27).
Woodward was online on March 1 to discuss his review of Stewart's book.
_____Post Archive_____
Disney Chooses Successor to Chief Executive Eisner (The Washington Post, Mar 14, 2005)
Eisner Will End Reign at Disney (The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2004)
_____On the Web_____
Disney Press Release
Disney Stock Quote/Company Information

Not so his successor, Disney President Iger, named over the weekend by the Disney board to succeed Eisner when he retires. Iger will oversee the $57 billion company, which includes the ABC and ESPN television networks, movie studios, a consumer products division and theme parks in the United States and abroad.

In his first day of interviews since getting the job, Iger maintained an even keel yesterday and seemed determined not to say anything radical. He deftly sidestepped the Eisner Question by saying he is "avoiding public comparisons with Eisner." When asked about firings last year of top ABC executives, Iger sounded the refrain common to sports locker rooms these days: "The past is just that -- the past. Dwelling on it just doesn't have any real value," he said.

The only flash of emotion Iger showed was when he was asked about a passage in James B. Stewart's recent "DisneyWar" in which Iger is shown as opposing ABC's two hit shows this season, "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."

Iger said he had not read the book but said the way his opinions of those shows have been characterized by those who have read it is "preposterous and false, misguided and misunderstood and inaccurate."

Style-wise, the two men could hardly be more different, say those who know both.


Eisner "is one of the great charm bombs of all time," said Nell Minow, editor of the Corporate Library, a corporate governance watchdog. "You're just bombarded with this fabulous, wonderful personality that makes you feel like you're the only person in the world who understands his special vision. It's a very powerful tool."

Iger, who started his career as a television news weatherman and rose through the ranks of ABC, "is more of a traditional businessman," Minow said. "He's not as glitzy and showbizzy. He projects a lot of sincerity and has that rare CEO quality -- humility."

Sarah A.B. Teslik, chief executive of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, headed the Council of Institutional Investors last year when Eisner was facing a recall vote from dissident shareholders and major pension fund investors disappointed at the company's performance. She has never met Iger but knows his reputation for calm amid the storm is far different than what she experienced with Eisner.


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