You'll have to forgive me if I don't join in on the gleeful celebration this morning. Following today's announcement that -- effective September 30, 2006 -- Michael Eisner will be stepping down as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
Don't get me wrong, folks. This is admittedly really big news. But -- that said -- we need to see the forest through the trees here.
Yes, Michael Eisner IS stepping down. Which is just what Uncle Mikey's critics have been crying for for over nine months now. But you have to understand that this is all being done on Eisner's terms now, people. Which means that Michael has another 750+ days to stage manage his exit. And -- knowing Eisner -- he's going to want to go out on top.
More importantly -- by announcing this news now (As well as revealing this past Sunday that Disney President Robert Iger is his "preferred choice" to succeed him) -- Michael is trying to knee-cap Roy Disney & Stanley Gold. Attempting to prevent these two former Disney Board of Directors members from having much more than a marginal impact on what happens next at the Walt Disney Company.
How so? Well, let's remember that Roy & Stanley's initial aim with their "Save Disney" campaign was to bring about significant change in Mouse House management. And -- toward that end -- they have admittedly succeeded. Following the embarassing results of the proxy vote at this past March's shareholder meeting, Eisner gave up the chairmanship of the corporation. And then -- with today's announcement -- Michael's agreed to end his reign over the Magic Kingdom effective September 30, 2006.
Which -- to be honest -- isn't really what Disney & Gold wanted. You see, Roy & Stanley wanted Michael gone as of April of this year. More importantly, they wanted to be the key players in deciding who would next run the Mouse House. And that's not going to happen now.
Why for? Well, mostly because Disney & Gold are on the outside looking in right now. Oh, sure. They can still announce their alternate slate for Disney's Board of Directors in a month or two. But -- by then -- Eisner & Iger will be in the middle of their full court press with the financial community. Trying to convince Wall Street's movers & shakers that Disney doesn't really need any disruptions right now. That what would be best for the corporation (More importantly, Disney's stock price) would be just a smooth transition of power over the next two years.
Of course, the wild card here is ... What does Wall Street think of Robert Iger? To date, Iger hasn't exactly wowed the financial community. His chief areas of responsibility within the Walt Disney Company (I.E. ABC & ABC Family) have both performed absymally over the past three years. Which doesn't exactly bode well for Bob once he tries to pick up the reins of power at Disney in September of 2006.
Should the financial community decide that it's not all that impressed with Iger ... THEN Roy & Stanley may actually have a shot at becoming key players in this game again. The only problem is -- in order to do that -- "Save Disney" will have to go negative. Come out strongly against the idea of Eisner hand-picking his own successor.
"So what's the problem with doing that?," you ask. Well, Disney & Gold -- up until now -- have tried to portray themselves as the good guys. I mean, just look at the name of their organization: "Save Disney." As if Roy & Stanley are the white knights who are going to ride over the hill & save the Magic Kingdom.
But -- should Disney & Gold decide to aggressively attack Iger -- Roy & Stanley may find themselves assuming new roles. That of spoiler. People who aren't really acting in the best interests of the Walt Disney Company anymore. But -- rather -- as individuals who are just being disruptive just because Mouse House management refuses to bow to their will.
So don't think that today's announcement signals the end of the story, folks. Truth be told, this is just the beginning of the "Eisner Exit" saga. We've got another 24+ months of corporate intrigue and people jockeying for position to come. Which JHM will try & keep you abreast of.
Speaking of which ... Let's start by dispelling everyone's first misconception. That -- when Michael Eisner steps down as head of the Walt Disney Company effective September 30, 2006 -- that this means that we won't have Uncle Mikey to kick around anymore.
WRONG! According to corporate insiders that I've spoken with, the terms of Eisner's employment agreement with the Mouse House call for Michael to continue on as a paid consultant for the Walt Disney Company for a period of no less than three years. So -- even after he steps down as CEO -- Eisner's still going to have a say in how the Disney corporation is run.
More importantly, I keep hearing that Michael is looking to pull a Card Walker. As in: Just as Disney's former Chairman & CEO did 'way back in May of 1983, Eisner wants to go from running the Walt Disney Company to taking a position on the corporation's Board of Directors. Which (obviously) would allow Eisner to continue to have a say in how the Mouse House is run.
It's this last item that (me personally) I think will truly steam Roy & Stanley's shorts. I mean, the very idea that they resigned from Disney's Board of Directors to bring about change at the Mouse ... Only to have Eisner then assume a position of power on that very same board that they vacated.
Which is why I said what I said at the very top of this article, folks: Two years is a very long time.
This story ain't over. Not by a long shot. Look for Eisner to attempt to go out in style, standing front & center at Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration next year as well as presiding over the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland in late 2005/early 2006. Meanwhile, look for Roy & Stanley to continue to probe for weaknesses. Hoping that Wall Street will eventually reject Robert Iger as Disney's heir apparent. Which will then allow "Save Disney" to once again ... Well ... try & save Disney.
All in all, it's going to be a fun 24 months. So be sure and regularly drop by JimHillMedia.com. Where we'll try & keep you guys on top of this obviously continuing story.