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Disney chief executive Bob Iger steps aside

Bob Iger has led Disney to record financial results, even in the face of economic downturns.

New York

BOB Iger, who has delayed his retirement four times in recent years, abruptly stepped down as chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Co on Tuesday, after 15 years at the helm.

Disney said he would be replaced by Bob Chapek, a 27-year veteran of the company who was most recently chairman of Disney's parks business.

Mr Iger, 69, will take on the role of executive chairman and direct Disney's creative endeavours, to ensure a smooth transition through the end of his contract on Dec 31, 2021, the company said.

He had been expected to remain chief executive until that date. The out-of-the-blue passing of the baton to Mr Chapek, 60, thus surprised Wall Street and Hollywood.

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Disney shares dropped 3 per cent in after-hours trading on Tuesday to US$125.30.

Mr Chapek will report to the Disney board, which is led by Mr Iger.

Mr Iger said by phone: "It's only abrupt in other people's eyes because we haven't been talking about it publicly. I have been discussing this with the board for a number of months. I basically described what I thought my best use was, given that our asset base and strategy are pretty much in place, and that was to fully focus on the creative side of our business and making sure that our creative pipelines are vibrant."

He said he considered elevating Mr Chapek to an interim role - perhaps chief operating officer, a job that does not currently exist at Disney.

"But I did not believe that would bestow on him the kind of autonomy that I wanted him to have during this transition," Mr Iger said. "I'm not going to suddenly be working three days a week. My new role is a full-time job."

Mr Chapek, who has limited creative experience, became the seventh chief executive in Disney's nearly 100-year history.

"I have absolute confidence in his abilities, as does the board," Mr Iger told analysts on a conference call.

"I intend to work very closely with Bob. My goal when I leave here is that he will be just as steeped in the creative part of the business as I am today."

Mr Chapek said that he had spent "the last couple weeks" talking with Mr Iger and the Disney board about becoming chief executive.

"I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward," he told analysts.

Before joining Disney in 1993, he had worked in brand management at H. J. Heinz and J. Walter Thompson Worldwide. Raised in Hammond, Indiana, he has a degree in microbiology from Indiana University and received his MBA from Michigan State University.

Michael Nathanson, a media analyst and founding partner at MoffettNathanson, said in a phone interview: "Chapek is a really good, no-brainer pick. The other division leaders have been there too short a time.

"He's a really nice person who is part of the Disney culture, which is important."

Other candidates to succeed Mr Iger included Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney's direct-to-consumer and international division, and Peter Rice, chairman of Walt Disney Television.

Since taking over as CEO in 2005, Mr Iger has led Disney to record financial results, even in the face of economic downturns, the occasional horrendous movie write-off and changing consumer habits that dented ESPN, the company's long-time profit engine.

Last year, Mr Iger completed a US$71.3 billion acquisition that gave Disney the bulk of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, substantially altering the entertainment landscape. He then oversaw the successful introduction of Disney Plus.

The downside to that success? Nobody seemed to measure up, complicating succession at a company that has a history of bumpy transfers of power. Mr Iger's predecessor, Michael Eisner, tried to cling to his job, resulting in his eventually turning over a company that was struggling. NYTIMES

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