Key resignation stops Disney share surge

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The Independent Online

The strong climb in the price of Walt Disney shares was checked in early dealings in New York yesterday by the departure of Richard Frank, chairman of the entertainment company's television and telecommunications side.

The shares eased 50 cents to $55 5/8 as some analysts expressed concern over the loss of the 15th top executive in recent months. The price was as low as $37.88 (£24) only last October.

Disney said the parting was amicable and added that Mr Frank would retain ties with the company on a consultancy basis. He is being replaced by Dennis Hightower, currently head of Disney consumer products in Europe and the Middle East.

Michael Eisner, chief executive, said Mr Frank had "wanted to explore new opportunities for some time, but was gracious enough to stay at the helm of the television group while we reorganised the company."

Mr Frank joined the company 10 years ago as president of Walt Disney Studios.

He said yesterday: "The entertainment business is more fascinating today than ever before, with the convergence of the media with the telephone and the computer and the resulting formation of a global entertainments environment. I will now have a chance to do other things."

Mr Hightower assumed control of Disney consumer products in Europe and the Middle East in 1987, and is credited with orchestrating the company's strongest period of growth in that part of the world.

"When Dennis first joined Disney eight years ago, we asked him to rejuvenate the Disney franchise in Europe and the Middle East. Dennis exceeded our expectations, building the value of retail sales from $650m to $4.5bn," Mr Eisner said.

Among Mr Hightower's responsibilities were book and magazine publishing, merchandise licensing, film promotion and computer software. Disney's European publishing operations have grown from 120 different magazines in 16 different languages to 180 magazines in 27 languages.

Disney also announced yesterday that sales of the video of The Lion King had reached $450m since being released at the end of last month. More than 26 million copies have been sold, making the video the best-selling of all time.