Shares of Walt Disney Co. rose Monday on news that the second-largest media and entertainment company's board elected President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Iger to succeed Chief Executive Michael Eisner when he retires on Sept. 30. The decision, announced Sunday, ends a months-long search that began when Eisner, under pressure from Disney's board, announced last September that he would step down within a year.
In one of his first interviews since the announcement, Iger told Bloomberg News that one of his first orders of business would be to determine whether Disney could renew its relationship with Pixar Animation Studios, the source of some of Disney's biggest hits.
"It's extremely important for us to create great animation," Iger said. "But as I've cautioned any number of people, any relationship we have has to be the right one for shareholders."
Iger also said Disney needs to focus on making "more great family entertainment" and that he agreed it was time for Disney to part ways with Harvey and Bob Weinstein, co-chairmen of Miramax Film Corp. "I think our interests have diverged over the years," he said.
Disney Chairman George Mitchell called Iger, a former ABC television executive, "an experienced, talented and visionary leader who has made crucial and substantial contributions toward Disney's strong performance." Iger became president and chief operating officer in 2000, four years after Disney purchased Capital Cities/ABC.
The board moved over the weekend after reports that the only other candidate, eBay Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Meg Whitman, dropped out of the running. Whitman sent an e-mail to her co-workers at eBay Monday, telling them that while she entertained talks because she has a "fond spot" for Disney, where she worked for four years through 1992, she wants to remain at eBay. "Great things remain to be done, and I very much want to be part of that future,'' Whitman wrote.
Disney's stock edged up 43 cents, 1.6 percent, to settle at $28.02 on Monday.
The board's decision to name Iger effectively ends Eisner's two-decade reign at Disney on his terms. He rebuilt the moribund company with a string of animated hit movies, but a number of high-profile failures marred the final several years. Last year, he lost his chairman's post after a shareholder revolt, and nearly lost his CEO job.
Eisner neutralized his opponents last September by saying he would step down within one year. He then publicly backed Iger as his successor. Last week, dissidents were again complaining that his presence in interviews had corrupted the board's search process.
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