12 to Watch 2005: Robert Iger

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

It was a rare moment of humor for The Walt Disney Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Iger, a man known as a low-key, buttoned-down executive, who has long been the No. 2 to Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

The setting was a Bear Stearns investor conference in Orlando, Fla., a week after the Disney board stripped Mr. Eisner of his chairman title amid investor unrest. ABC, which Mr. Iger ran before being tapped as Mr. Eisner’s right-hand man, continued to languish in the ratings and was in desperate need of a hit.

Mr. Iger told investors at the conference that he received an e-mail from someone suggesting a new reality series for the network. In a deadpan tone, Mr. Iger described the pitch as a combination of “Survivor,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Apprentice.” It would be called “The Successor,” and the winner would replace Mr. Eisner.

The joke drew laughs from investors and marked a turning point for Mr. Iger, who, in the ensuing months, would evolve from a corporate enigma into Disney’s front man, fielding inquiries from analysts, quelling unrest among shareholders and providing operating details at earnings conference calls-in effect, becoming a leader.

Disney’s board is expected to make a decision by June about the replacement for Mr. Eisner, who has announced his retirement. The board has identified Mr. Iger as the top internal candidate for the job.

As recently as a year ago Wall Street analysts and executive recruiters had all but written off Mr. Iger, considering him a yes-man who had done little to separate himself from Mr. Eisner.

Mr. Iger also suffered from the perception of being ineffective at turning around ABC.

Now it’s a different story. Disney has staged a financial comeback and is viewed by some analysts as a bellwether media company. ABC is enjoying a ratings revival, and the company’s cable properties, led by ESPN, are as strong as ever.

At the same time, Mr. Iger, who through a spokesman declined to comment for this article, has become the face of Disney, while the controversial Mr. Eisner appears to be stepping back from the limelight.

Just the Facts …

Title: President and chief operating officer, The Walt Disney Co.

How long in current position: Since January 2000

Year of birth: 1951

Place of birth: New York

What to watch for: After a tumultuous year as Michael Eisner’s No. 2, Mr. Iger is the top internal candidate for the CEO job at Disney.

Who knew? Mr. Iger is married to CNN anchor and reporter Willow Bay.