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Never mind about Star Wars 7. Who is going to be Bob Iger's No. 2?

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Never mind about Star Wars 7. Who is going to be Bob Iger's No. 2?

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So when exactly did Bob Iger let George Lucas now that he was interested in acquiring Lucasfilm Ltd. ? It wasn't " ... a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." But -- rather -- last May in Orlando, when both Iger & Lucas were at Disney's Hollywood Studios to take part in an elaborate opening ceremony for "Star Tours: The Adventures Continue."

Bob Iger and George Lucas (center) pose for photographs as the opening ceremony
for "Star Tours: The Adventures Continue" at Disney's Hollywood Studios concludes.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

According to what company insiders have told me, during the rehearsal process for this opening ceremony, George reportedly told Bob that he really appreciated all of the effort that the Imagineers had put into the new multi-branching version of the "Star Tours" attraction. Which would help keep the  Star Wars characters evergreen and -- more importantly -- relevant for the next generation of theme park goers.

Lucas then allegedly let slip that he was giving some semi-serious thought about stepping away from Lucasfilm Ltd., or at least the day-to-day operations of that company. But the only problem with doing that was that George would then have to name a successor.

It was at this point that Iger supposedly revealed that he too had succession issues on the brain. With Bob reportedly confiding to George that -- as part of the new employment agreement that he was at that time negotiating with Disney's Board of Directors -- that he didn't want to repeat Michael Eisner's mistake. Which was to stay on in the top job at Disney longer than he was actually effective. Which is why Iger was considering exiting the Company entirely by June of 2016.

Bob Iger and George Lucas sign the Lucasfilm Ltd. acquisition deal. Photo by Rick
Rowell. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So here you have two very powerful men in Hollywood who have built up and then maintained major media companies who now discover that they have something in common.  In that both Bob or George are eyeballing the exit.

It was this piece of common turf, that there was more to life than just maintaining intellectual property, that reportedly opened the door to the Lucasfilm Ltd. acquisition.

Now you'd think that most everyone at the Mouse House would be happy that R2D2 & C3PO are about to become Disney characters. But the way I hear it, both Tom Staggs & Jay Rasulo aren't entirely enthusiastic about this acquisition. But not for the reasons that you might think.

George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy, board co-chairs of Lucasfilm Ltd.
Photo by Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images

Why For? Well, it's not the $4.05 billion that The Walt Disney Company is paying for Lucasfilm Ltd. (I'm told that George originally asked for a multiple of that amount. Something much closer to the $7.4 billion that Disney paid for Pixar Animation Studios back in January of 2006). But -- rather -- Kathleen Kennedy, the current Co-Chair of Lucasfilm. Who will soon become the President of Lucasfilm and report directly to Alan Horn, the Chairman of Walt Disney Studios once the Lucasfilm acquisition is complete.

"And why does Kathleen concern Jay and Tom?," you ask. For the very same reason that Rasulo & Staggs have been nervously eyeing Alan Horn. The fact that Bob Iger has yet to name his successor.

To explain: It's long been assumed that Bob would eventually officially designate either Jay or Tom as his No. 2. This is the main reason that Iger reportedly had Rasulo & Staggs swap jobs back in November of 2009, with Jay (who had previously been Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) replacing Tom as the Company's senior executive vice president and chief financial officer. While Staggs assumed Rasulo's old position as head of Parks and Resorts.

Bob Iger, Tim Burton and Alan Horn at the Hollywood
premiere of Disney's "Frankenweenie." Photo by
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Company insiders had always assumed that Bob had made Jay & Tom switch jobs because he was looking to round out their resumes. Make sure that both men had the necessary on-the-job experience before he then named one of them his No. 2. But now that Alan Horn (who -- prior to being named Chairman of Walt Disney Studios back in May -- had previously been President and COO of Warner Bros. Entertainment) is on the lot and Kathleen Kennedy (Who was one of the co-founders of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment as well as a partner in the Kennedy / Marshall Company) is about to enter the Mouse House ... Well, Alan & Kathleen are both Hollywood heavyweights who have lots of experience when it comes to running major entertainment companies. And Jay & Tom's concern is that -- when it comes time for Disney's Board of Director to name Bob Iger's successor -- the Board may opt to go with more experienced execs like Horn & Kennedy rather than reward loyal longtime Disney officials who've risen up through the ranks like Rasulo & Staggs.

Long story short, folks: There's a lot more going on here than just Walt Disney Studios acquiring the rights to make "Star Wars 7." Especially since March of this year (which is when John Pepper stepped down as the Chairman of The Walt Disney Company and Bob Iger became both Disney's Chairman & CEO), there has been all sorts of rumors in-house about who Iger is going to tap to be his No. 2.

Mind you, I don't expect that Bob will pull a Palpatine and have Jay, Tom, Alan & Kathleen go at it with light sabers. But while Star Wars fans will be waiting to see who Kathleen & George select to be the writer and/or director of Episode 7, Mouse House watchers (knowing that Bob Iger has already announced that he will be stepping down as Disney's CEO in March of 2015 and then exiting the Company entirely by June of 2016) will spend the next few months sifting for clues as to who's going to be named Iger's successor.

Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (L)
and Jay Rasulo, executive vice president & chief financial
officer of The Walt Disney Company. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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  • This is all pretty exciting. If Disney handle this like they have with Pixar and Marvel it could mean great things for Star Wars. There are so many possibilities.

    Does this mean we might see some new Star Wars attractions for the parks? A dedicated Star Wars land might be just what the mouse house needs to lure those first day visitors away from Potter. Also if rumors are true that James Cameron is growing difficult to deal with could we maybe see that deal scrapped completely now that the more profitable Star Wars universe is part of the family?

    Also we might finally see the long awaited star wars tv show move forward on ABC. Between that and the S.H.I.E.L.D series this could raise the stock of the network incredibly.

    I can’t wait to see how this progresses and to see an Episode VII, if new film makers are going to be taking the reins we might be in for something very special.

  • couldn't feel more happy at this... but I'd be happier if I could work for Disney....

  • Gee, compared to the amount spent on Pixar, this seems like a steal!  I mean, they get every aspect of Star Wars, merchandise, characters, stories, movies, TV shows, they get Lucas Arts, Skywalker Sound, ILM, and I assume, theme park rights.  My head is still spinning from this announcement yesterday.  Sounds like the descision to go ahead with SW Ep. 7 was made at the end of June, so it appears to me that this deal came about very, very quickly.  Do you have any more details Jim?

  • Thanks Jim for another exceptional scoop on a Disney story.  I'm still not sure either Rasulo or Staggs are viewed as CEO-worthy by Wall Street.  Kennedy comes with an exceptional resume, but hasn't headed anything as big or complex as Disney.  Horn seems like a more viable third option -- especially since, with the addition of Lucasfilm, there isn't that much for a Disney Studio head to do with even fewer open movie slots to fill!

  • Lost in all this news is an emerging reality that The Walt Disney Company as we know is is morphing into something that few of us will recognize down the road. Don't misinterpret here --- I love Star Wars and Marvel as much as the next guy. But Iger clearly is leading Disney into a new era where the company evidently won't produce much organic content. Most of future Disney offerings will be acquired brands.

    Some of the defenses thrown about are along the lines of "Well, that's what Disney did with Snow White, Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh." The difference is that Disney created its own Disney versions. Disney can't really present its own version of Darth Vader or the Hulk because they're so well defined already. I don't mind so much a big corporation acquiring these properties. I'm not as keen on automatically hopping up and down and proclaiming them tried and true Disney characters alongside Mickey and Donald. If that's the case, would we have the same reaction if Disney bought Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker? In my mind, those aren't organically created Disney characters any more than Darth Vader is.

    A few decades from now, this reality will be all that generations of new fans will know, so where we thought of Disney as Mickey, Pluto and Goofy or the Haunted Mansion, there's a part of me saddened by the fact that Disney couldn't continue decades of organically created Disney content that looked and felt authentic. 1989's "Little Mermaid" to me is as Disney as 1937's "Snow White." 2015's "Star Wars Episode 7" seems artificially grafted onto Disney and not as much "Disney," no matter who owns it now. I felt the same way about "The Avengers," and again, I'd feel the same way if Disney buys Bugs Bunny next year.

    Kinda sad that the most originally consistent "content creator" in Hollywood failed to sustain that creativity and now must resort to buying up "brands" to pass off as "Disney magic."

  • Jim,

    This move doesn't say who his successor will be.  But it goes A LONG WAY towards saying WHAT his successor will be:  a licensing and distribution distribution wizard.  Iger has more radically changed Disney than any executive since Walt himself (and I include Eisner in that).  Disney is now an office complex that houses and supports the best content creators.  Marvel, Lucas, the Muppets, Pixar, a revitalized feature animation department, ESPN, a plethora of TV networks, etc. etc.  

    The next head will not be a visionary- almost all the visionaries are now under Disney's umbrella.  It will be the man or woman who has a handle on making sure that content is monetized, licensed, and easily accessible to consumers.

  • TJ> Disney made a go with an in-house comic book-style property with Gargoyles and that ended up being a cult hit at best. Even at its peak, Power Rangers did better.

  • Won't George Lucas have a lot tosay about who is next with all the stock he's getting?

  • Kinda have to agree with TJ here.  These acquisitions seem to indicate that the execs at the Mouse House don't have much faith in their creative folks being able to create memorable characters and properties in-house, and seem to be making purchases to cement their ability to exploit proven franchises to carry them through if/when their own folks can't deliver. Admittedly, they're not the first media conglomerate to do this - Time Warner's purchase of Turner  and Viacom's purchase of Paramount most readily come to mind - but Disney seems to be doing it on a grand scale.

    Now, as to Jim's question as to who'll be the next CEO of Disney, maybe Bob's plan is to split the job between the candidates, a la Eisner/Wells in the 80s or Walker/Tatum after Walt passed away. Horn and Kennedy have the film and TV production experience on their side, Rasulo and Staggs have knowledge of how the parks and resorts work and how everthing comes together financially. Maybe Bob's going to compare the srengths and weaknesses of all four, then announce two of them as CEO and COO, respectively, or maybe make Kennedy or Horn chairman and use the other three in supporting roles. Time will tell, I guess...

  • How is it that when a discussion of who will succeed Iger comes up, no one EVER mentions Anne Sweeney?  She's running what is, right now, the largest income generator for the company.  Media networks provides 46% of the company's  revenues and 69% of its net income.  If performance is supposed to be rewarded, why isn't she the top choice?

    And don't say "her work isn't 'Disney' enough.  Her division operates dozens of versions of the Disney Channel in multiple languages around the world.

  • I have to disagree with TJ that Disney wont be creating original content.  They bought a franchise, they didn't sell of WDFA.  I also see Star Wars merging more organically than Marvel does.  Star Wars has been in the parks for 25 years and Indy has been there for 17.  These are not new additions.  Add to that the Jedi Mickey and Darth Vader Donald figures, and I say that this buyout is just a natural progression of the relationship between the companies, much like the acquisition of the Muppets.

  • Going along with what Tj, Bond and others have said, I can almost sometimes convince myself that what this new corporate behemoth needs to do is come up with a new name for the overall umbrella corporation - say, MegaloCo, or something -  with Disney just another one of the brands <i>alongside</i> of Marvel, Lucas, etc.

  • DocEagle - After the perceived failure of Rich Ross as head of the Walt Disney Studios, I suspect that Anne Sweeney and others associated with the Disney Channel will be passed over for the foreseeable future. They may be bringing in some nice money to the Company with the Tweenie Channel and its various spin-offs, but their work may be perceived is succucessfully exploiting a niche market, and that their efforts wouldn't work when it comes to running the Company as a whole.  But then, I have a grudge against Sweeney for her role in casting every audience but teens and tweens aside in a quest for better market share, so I'm kinda biased here.

  • bobd - How about Buy and Large as the new company name?

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