Michael Eisner’s 20 years at the helm of the Walt Disney Company certainly weren’t blemish-free. The chief executive was accused of cheapening the Disney name with subpar movies and theme-park attractions, and costing the company a lucrative relationship with Pixar. But, in the end, he helped secure Disney’s future—by finding a better CEO to lead it.
His successor, Bob Iger, went on to lead Disney through some of its most prosperous years. He even acquired Pixar—as well as Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Iger credits his close working relationship with Eisner for his own successful shift into the CEO seat. He served as Disney’s chief operating officer for five years before assuming the mantle in 2005. “I moved into the role after having studied under Michael for five years. I overlapped with him for six months between the time I was named and the time that he left,” he said. “And it was–frankly, it was seamless.”
Now his legacy, too, will hinge on a handoff—which has been proving as tricky as you would imagine. Iger recently extended his contract for a third time to give Disney’s board more room to find a successor. He talked about the decision when asked on a conference call yesterday:
I’ve been in this job for 12 years. It’s a job that I have loved from the moment that I got it. I had a few more things that I wanted to accomplish, I can talk about that, but frankly, the number one priority of mine was making sure that we have another successful transition process. I thought by giving it another year, I increased the possibility of that happening, and increased the possibility, frankly, of more opportunities for the people within this company as well. So that is my number one priority. I’d say that’s probably the board’s number one priority. We have enough time to not only consider the right candidates, but to make the right decision and to craft a handover of sorts or a transition that should be successful.
Until last year, Iger appeared to be grooming former chief operating officer Thomas Staggs to take his place. But Staggs resigned last fall (paywall) after the board decided he wasn’t the right fit. There is currently no public frontrunner to fill Iger’s shoes.
Another obstacle weighing on Iger at the moment is ESPN, Disney’s one-time crown jewel, which has been floundering due to industry shifts.
“There are other things that are clearly at the top of my list in terms of priorities,” Iger said, on the call. “It’s continuing to grow the company in the digital direction, it’s continuing to grow the company globally, it’s continuing to solidify ESPN’s future by doing the things that I talked about on this call and probably above all that, which is tied in part to succession, but it goes beyond succession, it’s making sure that the leadership of this company across the board continues to be really strong.”