Risk & Compliance

Departing Soon: Eisner, Greenberg

Disney president and chief operating officer Robert Iger will become chief executive this autumn; reportedly, AIG co-chief operating officer and vi...
Stephen TaubMarch 14, 2005

On Sunday, the Walt Disney Co. announced that chief executive officer Michael Eisner will step down on October 1, a year earlier than planned. He will be succeeded by president and chief operating officer Robert Iger, a Disney veteran who has served as Eisner’s second-in-command for the past five years.

Eisner, who has led the company since 1984, also held the post of chairman until last year’s annual meeting, when more than 40 percent of Disney shareholders withheld their votes for Eisner. The board then installed George Mitchell as chairman, though Eisner retained his CEO title. (Rebuilding investor confidence in the Magic Kingdom is nothing new, as CFO magazine reported in its
November 1997 cover story “Managing Mickey’s Money.”)

Many observers had believed that Disney might try for a fresh start by naming a high-profile outsider as chief executive. However, when eBay CEO Meg Whitman withdrew herself from consideration on Friday, the Iger decision became much clearer — not that he’ll get a free pass from Disney dissidents.

In a statement following the company’s announcement, former directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold said: “We find it incomprehensible that the board of directors of Disney failed to find a single external candidate interested in the job and thus handed Bob Iger the job by default. The need for the Walt Disney Company to have a clean break from the prior regime and to change the leadership culture has been glaringly obvious to everyone except this board.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and chief executive officer of American International Group, may resign his CEO post as early as this week.

AIG faces a number of regulatory probes concerning “non-traditional” insurance products, including one that the company developed for cell-phone distributor Brightpoint Inc. and another that it purchased from General Reinsurance, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway.

Greenberg, who became president of AIG in 1967, may remain chairman, according to the Journal. The paper added, however, that AIG directors are trying to work out terms of Greenberg’s retirement.

Co-chief operating officer and vice chairman Martin Sullivan is likely to be named Greenberg’s successor as CEO, according to the Journal. AIG spokesman Chris Winans told the paper that “the board has taken no action” but otherwise denied comment.