Disney rebels attack Iger's appointment as new chief

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The Independent Online

The Walt Disney Company brushed off rumblings of a new shareholder rebellion yesterday, following its announcement that Robert Iger will take over as chief executive officer at the group, succeeding the controversy-dogged Michael Eisner, who will step down at the end of September.

The choice of Mr Iger, 57, the president of the company and once a TV weatherman, was mostly welcomed. Disney shares rose in early trading. The transition comes at a time of increased fortunes at Disney, with improvements in performance across most of its businesses. However, the appointment provoked an angry reaction from dissident ex-directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who had previously led a bitter battle to have Mr Eisner removed from his post. They accused the board of failing genuinely to open the succession process to outside candidates.

"We find it incomprehensible that the board of directors at Disney failed to find a single external candidate interested in the job and thus handed Bob Iger the job by default," they said, signalling that they intend to challenge the appointment.

Mr Iger's path was cleared last week when the only possible external candidate, Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay, the online auction house, withdrew her name.

The continuing ire of Mr Disney, a nephew of Walt Disney, and Mr Strong will be one of the challenges to face Mr Iger. Widely considered a less polarising figure than Mr Eisner, he may also try to mend fences with the Pixar animation studio, whose boss Steve Jobs has all but broken ties with Disney.

Most of Mr Iger's career was spent climbing the rungs at ABC until it was bought by Disney a decade ago. As president and chief financial officer at Disney since 2000, he is well acquainted with the company. Critics worry, however, that his expertise lies mostly in television and consumer products and that his grasp will be less steady in the areas of film production and theme park management.

He takes the helm amid a renaissance at Disney, which suffered a disappointing slump at the start of the Nineties. In recent months, it has seen a revival of revenues at the ABC network, partly spawned by the hugely successful sitcom Desperate Housewives as well as success at the sports cable leader ESPN. Its theme parks have also returned to health.

"If things go right for Bob, it [Disney] could be a phenomenal performer in the next few years," commented Larry Haverty at Gabelli Asset Management. He expressed the hope that it may not be too late for Disney to make up with Pixar, whose most recent hit was The Incredibles.

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