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When Thomas Staggs was promoted to chief operating officer of Walt Disney 14 months ago, it was presumed he would be groomed to be CEO when Bob Iger steps down presumably at the end of June 2018. But Staggs surprised Hollywood on Monday by announcing that he’s quitting the COO post in a month and leaving the company at the end of the fiscal year.
Disney’s board will now start the process of finding a new leader all over again. Here are some possible names the recruiters may discuss or look at:
1. Steve Burke
The 57-year-old CEO of NBCUniversal, owned by parent company Comcast, is riding high after Universal set a record in box office in 2015 and its studio posted record profit. On the TV side, the NBC broadcast network enjoyed a ratings rebound last year. Plus, Burke has a history with Disney, helping to launch the Disney Stores in 1986 before becoming president and COO of Euro Disney then president of ABC Broadcasting. Burke joined Comcast in 1998 and when the cable giant made a hostile bid for Disney more than a decade ago, he was expected to be named CEO of Disney had the deal gone through. But given his success at NBCU, his long partnership with Roberts and his reputation for being loyal, he is more likely to stay put, according to a company source.
2. Chase Carey
Carey, 62, has chief-executive experience because he ran DirecTV for six years as its CEO more than a decade ago, and he’s credited with adding 1 million subscribers and returning the provider of satellite TV to profitability. DirecTV has since been sold to AT&T but when Carey ran it, it was controlled by News Corp., the company Carey is primarily associated with. Carey was president and COO and deputy chairman at News Corp., and when Rupert Murdoch split his company in two, Carey became COO and executive vice chairman of the newly created entity, 21st Century Fox.
Given Carey’s long industry career, he would likely be seen as an interim solution.
3. Peter Chernin
Chernin preceded Carey as president and COO of News Corp. and, before the split, he had headed both Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Broadcasting, and he oversaw massive growth in sports programming, a skill set that could come in handy at Disney, the parent of ESPN. Nowadays, he is CEO of The Chernin Group, which produces shows like New Girl and Ben and Kate on the TV side and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Heat on the film side. One drawback: Chernin is just one year younger than Iger, so his selection as CEO wouldn’t exactly be considered a long-term solution. Plus, he seems to have enjoyed being his own boss. A person close to Chernin said the executive isn’t interested in joining a big media company again.
4. Sheryl Sandberg
Another name bandied about is Sandberg, who is currently chief operating officer of Facebook and has served on Disney’s board since 2009. Before joining Facebook, she was a top executive at Google and a chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Though Sandberg has little experience running an entertainment company, she might be a smart pick considering the digital disruption that is hurting both television and film.
5. Bob Iger
Some insiders and outside observers say the best option for Disney is to extend Iger for a few more years, and some speculate that the possibility of that scenario is at the heart of Staggs‘ decision to leave the company. Iger will be 67 when his contract expires a little over two years from now, and he’s considered one of the best chief executives in corporate America. Iger also might be reconsidering his planned resignation from Disney after he was involved in a failed effort to build an NFL stadium in Southern California that would have hosted both the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. Had the effort succeeded, Iger would have taken an ownership stake in one of those two teams, presumably making it difficult to maintain his position as CEO of Disney.
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