Iger makes a strategic decision

Murphy's planning unit downsized

In a decisive signal of regime change at Walt Disney, the Mouse’s powerful head of strategic planning, Peter Murphy, has been shown the door.

Move comes shortly after chief operating officer Bob Iger was chosen earlier this month to succeed Michael Eisner as CEO when Eisner steps down at the end of September.

Since news broke of his upcoming promotion, Iger has described his vision of a more decentralized Mouse with power increasingly delegated to the company’s individual divisions — including studio entertainment, parks and resorts, consumer products and media networks.

Symbolically, the announcement indicates that Iger could move swiftly to put his stamp on the company, defusing critics like Roy Disney and Stanley Gold who feel Iger is too closely tied to Eisner.

Murphy’s strategic planning unit has been downsized, although a smaller corporate group will continue to develop the company’s five-year plan and focus on acquisitions, emerging businesses and new technologies.

“This new structure will create efficiency with accountability and empower our business unit leaders,” Iger said in a statement over the weekend.

“Peter’s vast contributions during his tenure at Disney, particularly his leadership role in the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC, helped transform Disney into a market-leading global media company,” Iger said of Murphy’s departure. “His extensive experience and knowledge of our businesses, technology and strategy will continue to benefit (us).”

Murphy, 42, and a 17-year veteran of Disney, was always considered the company’s — and Eisner’s — “plan” man, issuing reality checks and reports on acquisitions and corporate initiatives.

That all decisions went through Murphy had become a source of discontent at the studio, and his upfront style has always been criticized internally.

Under Murphy’s oversight Disney acquired Miramax as well as the Baby Einstein and Muppet franchises; he was also instrumental in the acquisition of Fox Family, now ABC Family, a costly deal on which Disney took a drubbing and execs have acknowledged publicly they overpaid. Murphy was the point man in the company’s attempts to renegotiate the deal.

Company also got hammered in the press for purchasing the go-nowhere Internet portal Infoseek.

Disney’s statement said Murphy, who joined the Mouse’s strategic planning department in 1988, will be a senior adviser to Iger.

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