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Michael mulls move

Eisner sets Sept. date to ankle Mouse House

NEW YORK — After years of extracting his share of high-level resignation letters, it was Michael Eisner’s turn Sunday to pen a note to the board saying he will step down as chief exec on Sept. 30, one year ahead of schedule.

Eisner said in the effusive two-page letter that he wouldn’t pursue a boardroom post. He also said the board “wisely concluded” that Mouse House prexy-chief operating officer Bob Iger was the best choice to succeed him.

“Although I intend to remain as a Disney director until the annual meeting of 2006, I will not make a request of the board to nominate me for an additional term nor will I seek the chairmanship of the company after the retirement of George Mitchell,” Eisner wrote.

Rumors have been floated in recent weeks — mainly by Eisner’s detractors — that he might try to nab the chair spot when Mitchell steps down after Disney’s annual meeting in 2006 or serve in some newly created board title.

During a conference call Sunday with reporters, Disney board chair George Mitchell was asked if Eisner’s letter was a matter of semantics, and whether the board may “offer” Eisner a post, since Eisner only said he wouldn’t “request” that the board give him one.

Mitchell wouldn’t say whether or not the board would support Eisner’s continuation in some sort of capacity, only that the board “accepts and respects” Eisner’s letter.

In their respective statements, Mitchell and Iger heaped praise on Eisner for his 20-year rule at the Mouse House. Mitchell also said the board would, of course, honor Eisner’s contract.

Eisner’s fall was prompted by a shareholder revolt last year that stripped him of his chair title and led to the announcement that he would retire when his current contract was up. Just after that revolt, the company enjoyed a remarkable turnaround at ABC and saw a strong year-end financial performance.

More recently, James B. Stewart refocused attention on Eisner’s troubles in his tome “DisneyWar,” which hit No. 5 on the New York Times nonfiction list Sunday.

In his letter Eisner didn’t mention the big controversies of his tenure, such as the Disney shareholders trial or the Jeffrey Katzenberg trial, but he said Disney is the sort of company that refuses to “be distracted by the combustion of world events or the noise of Hollywood gossip.”

“As much as I have loved nearly every minute of my tenure at Disney, two decades is enough time to spend as a chief executive officer of one company,” Eisner wrote.

“I’m ready to move on and climb new mountains, while always being available to help Disney in any way I can. Beginning Oct. 1, I expect to clean off my hiking boots, restock my Mickey Mouse backpack and start surveying some of the other peaks that are on the horizon.”

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