Who Will Replace Robert Iger as Disney's CEO?

12:32 PM PST 10/13/2011 by Kim Masters
Gene Duncan/Disney/Getty Images

Thomas Staggs looks like a near shoo-in to replace Iger, who will add the chairman's title in March.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Even before Disney announced that Robert Iger, current CEO and soon-to-be chairman, will be departing in June 2016, many within the Magic Kingdom assumed that veteran executive Thomas Staggs was the designated favorite to succeed him. But some high-level observers outside the company aren't entirely convinced that Staggs is the man for the job.

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Disney announced Oct. 7 that Iger, 60, will add the chairman's title in March. Then, in 2015, he'll step down as CEO, remaining as chairman through June 2016. Outgoing chairman John Pepper said the move was designed to ensure "a smooth transition to the next generation of leadership."

And that presumably means Staggs, 49, who has been chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since January 2010. Before that, he had served as CFO since 1998, playing a role in Disney's acquisitions of Capital Cities/ABC, Pixar and Marvel Entertainment. But in a surprise move nearly two years ago, Iger shuffled his executive deck by having Staggs exchange places with Jay Rasulo, who had been running the theme parks since 2002. The move to give Staggs more experience in the company's operations cemented the perception that he was the lead candidate in the succession derby as Rasulo was downgraded to dark horse.

"I really don't know who else it could be other than Tom," says one Disney veteran. "The board knows him. He presents nearly as well as Bob."

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Wall Street analyst Harold Vogel says Staggs, who has been with Disney since 1990, is a strong exec with a depth of knowledge, calling him a "predictable, capable" choice. BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield concurs. "Staggs will get the nod, and investors will love it," he says.

But a major media investor familiar with Staggs and Disney disagrees. "In my opinion, he's not a CEO," he says. "He's a chief financial officer who they've now given line responsibility to. I don't picture Tom sitting down with the premier of China or a Steve Jobs. I just don't know that he has that kind of gravitas." A top executive at another media company calls Staggs "a solid citizen" but says "his personality doesn't fill the room."

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Of course, Staggs had to be careful not to outshine his boss if he wanted to remain as front-runner. And he'll have time to grow in the public perception. Something of a mystery to many is why Disney is telegraphing Iger's future so far in advance. "Why are they announcing today what Bob Iger is doing four years from now?" asks a rival at another studio. "He looks great. You'd never know he was 60."

Though he'll only be 65 when he leaves Disney, one associate says Iger has said that he feels he'll have been in the job long enough by then. And, this person notes, the timetable could give him time to "ramp up to the next phase" -- whatever that might be.

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