Disney Succession: Peter Chernin Won't Pursue Bob Iger's Job

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Peter Chernin

The former Fox film chair is said to be uninterested in returning to the corporate world.

Cross one potential successor for Disney CEO Bob Iger off the list.

People familiar with the mind-set of Peter Chernin say the media investor and former Fox film chairman won't take over the world's largest entertainment company if Iger retires as planned in 2018. Chernin, 64, is said to be uninterested in re-joining the corporate world or abandoning his current business pursuits. He is CEO of The Chernin Group, which focuses on developing content for television and film, and also makes strategic investments in technology and media companies. In addition, his Otter Media, a joint venture with telecom giant AT&T, invests in digital media companies and over the top video services.

The Chernin speculation arose late Monday when Thomas Staggs announced he would step down from the chief operating officer position at Disney, where he was being groomed to replace Iger. The surprise move was accompanied by a statement from Disney saying its board of directors "will broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration" as the next CEO. Other names that have been thrown around include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke and Iger himself, 65, whose contract the board could choose to extend beyond 2018, just as it did last time Iger announced his retirement.  

Some insiders speculated Monday that Staggs, 55, a well-regarded executive who spent a decade as Disney's CFO and also ran its parks and resorts division, had failed to win favor with the Disney board since he was fingered as the heir apparent last year, beating out another top Disney executive, James Rasulo, who left the company. Others suggested Staggs wasn't satisfied with the proposition of waiting for the board to make its determination and perhaps be passed over for CEO.

“This announcement is a very big surprise, given the fanfare that surrounded his promotion to COO just a year ago," says Bill Simon, global sector leader, media & entertainment at executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Some analysts believed Chernin would be an ideal candidate to join Disney after spending much of his career at Fox, including serving as president and chief operating officer of News Corp. from 1996 to 2009. Chernin’s company produces shows like New Girl on the television side and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and on the film side. Chernin also holds a number of board seats at major companies such as American Express and Twitter.

The Staggs announcement throws a big wrench in Disney's plan for a tidy transition when Iger steps down. "There's enough time to find someone from inside or outside to groom as heir to Iger," notes Vogel Capital Management CEO and former entertainment industry analyst Hal Vogel. "But CEO at Disney is a tough job, and Bob Iger is a tough act to follow, as he's done so well."