Rise and fall of 'Emperor Eisner'
Thursday 12 February 2004
By almost anyone's standards, Michael Eisner had a good first decade at the Walt Disney Company. He faced a hard task after being appointed chief executive in 1984, trying to turn around an icon of American entertainment under the long shadow of the family dynasty that first introduced the mouse to the world.
In those days, Mr Eisner even got on well with Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt, who was among those who championed giving him the job. But after 1994, his relationship with Roy, the last family member of the board, began to sour and the fortunes of the company started to gyrate.
That year, his hugely respected right-hand man, Frank Wells, was killed in a helicopter crash. Also in 1994, the company plunged into the maelstrom of media consolidation still playing out today with its massively expensive acquisition of ABC television. That deal gave Disney the ESPN sports networks that have been cash cows. But ABC itself has been in the ratings ditch since.
Some would say Mr Eisner's first major misstep came in 1992 when he opened Euro-Disney outside Paris. The venture was not a success financially or with the public. Critics said Mr Eisner chose Paris because of government incentives, when he should have chosen somewhere with a better climate, say, Barcelona. But it has been the management style of Mr Eisner that has most irked Mr Disney, his allies and Wall Street.
He has been accused of padding the Disney board with cronies. And questions have been multiplying over his failure to institute a succession plan at the company. His answer until recently was that he had a name in a sealed envelope for the day he departs. Now he says Disney is looking for candidates to replace him.
Mr Disney, who called him "Emperor Eisner", says: "The company is rapacious, soul-less, and always looking for the 'quick buck' rather than long-term value which is leading to a loss of public trust."
Daniel Gross, who writes financial comment for Slate, the online magazine, said: "Eisner looks like a miserly bean-counter intent on putting out entertainment that is derivative, cheap, and easily digestible."
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