Magazine article Variety

Will Disney's CEO Shuffle Stay on Course for 2015?

Magazine article Variety

Will Disney's CEO Shuffle Stay on Course for 2015?

Article excerpt

MOUSE MOVES

With 'Star Wars,' Shanghai theme park coming to fruition, speculation grows that Iger may stick around

TWO YEARS BEFORE Robert Iger is set to step down as CEO of the Walt Disney Co., there's already talk around Hollywood that the Mouse House chief may not be ready to give up the keys to the Magic Kingdom in 2015 as planned.

The chatter may just be wishful thinking on the part of some at the Mouse House, where Iger remains a popular boss. Shareholders certainly don't want to see him go, tapping him as both CEO and chairman in 2010, and rewarding him with a $40 million payday last year for boosting Disney's stock price to record levels.

Technically, Iger will remain at Disney through June 30, 2016, as chairman. But Disney has not determined who will succeed him on March 31, 2015, when he's skedded to relinquish the CEO title after 10 years in the top job.

In 2015, Disney is expected to see the fruits of big deals that Iger has shepherded, notably the opening of a massive theme park in Shanghai and the first new Star Wars pic harvested from the company's $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm last year. With so much going on, some wonder if the Disney board may try to persuade Iger to extend his term as CEO to see those projects through.

The person who ultimately winds up succeeding him may depend on the fate of one of Iger's biggest passion projects: the Shanghai Disney Resort.

Iger brokered the deal with the Chinese government in 2009 to build the massive $3.7 billion theme park, currently under construction outside the Chinese city. Disney owns 43% of the project, which will include the park, hotels and restaurants - and will serve as the Mouse's biggest brand ambassador inside mainland China.

A successful opening would serve as a perfect swan song for the CEO, praised for bolstering Disney's muscle with the acquisitions of Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm in less than a decade. It may also determine whether Thomas Staggs, patiently waiting in the wings, will be promoted to CEO.

Observers say Iger has groomed Staggs for the role since making him chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts group in 2010. During that time, the well-liked exec has overseen the largest expansion of the company's vacation biz in years, propping up attendance at its parks around the globe with expensive new attractions and overhauls, launching cruise ships and building the Aulani resort in Hawaii. …

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