In a stunning turnabout that makes perfect sense, Disney CEO Bob Iger reconsidered his plans to retire and instead signed a new contract to continue leading the entertainment and media giant.
Sorry, Tom Staggs and Jay Rasulo.
Iger was supposed to retire in July 2016, and those two aforementioned guys were the leading contenders to succeed him (respectively the head of theme parks and the CFO). Problem was, neither of them was nearly as compelling a candidate as the guy already in the chair. And more important: The 63-year-old Iger looked around and decided there was nothing he would rather do, according to individuals with knowledge of his thinking.
Over the past year Iger has tried on for size a host of post-Disney career possibilities, including — according to one knowledgeable insider — a run for president. (His team strenuously denied this was the case.) Other options he’s explored included a bid to become Major League Baseball Commissioner or to purchase the L.A. Clippers.
Neither felt right, or challenging enough. (He was dissuaded from pursuing the political path, according to the insider.)
Over time, it became clear that the job he wanted was the one he already had. In a gradual change of heart, Iger decided that he was not ready to leave his incredibly successful run as the chief executive of the entertainment conglomerate, according to an individual with knowledge of his plans.
The Disney board of directors was thrilled with that conclusion, according to a company insider. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney has expanded its global reach, and the stock has soared steadily from $20 a share in 2010 to about $86 a share now. In 2013 the company made $6 billion in earnings on $45 billion in revenue. The company statement on Thursday noted that shareholder return has increased 311 percent since Iger became CEO in 2005, with Disney’s market capitalization rising to $150 billion from $48.4 billion.
As CEO, Iger made savvy management moves, including cementing a relationship with Apple’s Steve Jobs and making peace with Disney scion Roy Disney. He also made indisputably brilliant acquisitions in the midst of technological disruption, including buying Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009 and Lucasfilm — keeper of the “Star Wars” flame — in 2012.
This year Iger bought the multichannel online network Maker Studios for $500 million, though the wisdom of that acquisition has yet to be proven.
One of Iger’s crowning achievements came in the cultural sphere this year when Disney’s animated feature “Frozen” won the Oscar for best animated movie. It was also very good for business. In March, “Frozen” became the highest grossing animated film of all time with $1.072 billion worldwide.
It’s really no wonder that the Disney board of directors is relieved that Iger wants to stay. As one of the insiders put it: “They’re head over heels in love with him.”
Iger already extended the date of his expected retirement once, from 2015 to July 2016, a decision announced a year ago.
Disney named Iger its president and chief operating officer on Jan. 24, 2000, making him second in command under Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, several years after the disastrous tenure of Michael Ovitz. He became CEO in 2005.