Perhaps no single task will be as vital, however, as stepping out of the shadow of embattled outgoing CEO Michael Eisner, who has said he will stick around for a six-month transition period. "He has to show he's the un-Eisner," said J.P. Donlon, editor in chief of Directorship Group, Greenwich, Conn. "These days, when a new CEO comes into a troubled company, he has six months at most to show he has the stuff. Bob Iger will have to execute and execute quickly."
Mr. Iger inherits a $30.8 billion entertainment conglomerate that in the past year has seen a shareholder revolt, a hostile-takeover attempt from Comcast Corp., and soured relationships with longtime creative partners. Dissident board members Roy Disney, Walt Disney's nephew, and Stanley Gold continue their public attacks on Mr. Eisner, Disney's board and its selection of Mr. Iger as the new CEO.
The ABC Family channel continues to sputter, and the studio has been slow to invest in digital content, lagging behind many entertainment competitors. Disney also has slid off its former perch as king of film animation, with its only animated successes in recent years coming from its now-rocky Pixar alliance.
UP THROUGH RANKS
A former weatherman and native New Yorker, Mr. Iger spent more than two decades rising through the ranks at ABC. He was president-chief operating officer of ABC's TV networks when Disney acquired Capital Cities/ABC in the mid-'90s. He has a stated interest in the international marketplace, where Disney could see significant growth, and in new technologies, having said recently that Disney needs to focus on providing content in various forms. He has been Mr. Eisner's second-in-command for the past four-plus years.
"The challenge he has is taking Disney and making it his own," said Dennis McAlpine, managing director of McAlpine Associates, an independent research firm that studies entertainment and media. Because Disney's relationship with Pixar and the NFL are so important, Mr. Iger could "feel compelled to renew contracts with both as an early sign of his capabilities as Disney CEO," said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, in a memo titled "No Extreme Makeover Corporate Edition."
Those companies, in turn, "are well aware of this issue and will likely try to use it as significant leverage to extract far better terms than they might have been able to negotiate with a CEO from outside the company."
Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, who has had a particularly bitter relationship with Mr. Eisner and broke off talks on renewing the animation powerhouse's relationship with Disney a year ago, declined to comment. A longtime relationship with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, co-heads of Miramax, is in its final stages of divorce, and most industry watchers say it's too far gone even for an affable, diplomatic executive like Mr. Iger to save. "The inescapable conclusion here is that Michael Eisner picked his own successor, in contravention to the expressed wishes of the shareholders. The board rolled over and played dead," said Mr. Donlon. Mr. Iger's appointment, thoroughly scrutinized in the moment, will continue to be, analysts said. "It'll be used in business-school case studies."
Mr. Iger has said publicly that he does not intend to launch a major revamp at Disney, which some industry watchers are already calling a mistake. "His first few projects will set the tone," said Larry Gerbrandt, an independent media analyst. "If he keeps the ship on the same course, the critics and shareholders will be justified."
* Bob Iger, president
* To disprove critics, he must convince that he's not a puppet of Eisner
* Honeymoon will be less than 6 months