Iger just a blip on trial radar

Exec keeps his distance from Delaware

Where’s Bob?

It makes sense that the Disney board wanted to keep Mouse House prexy-chief operating officer Bob Iger far, far away from the shareholder trial that wound down last week in Delaware.

With Michael Eisner on his way out, Iger — a contender to succeed his boss — has become Disney’s Man About Town, attending investor conferences and the like.

There was clearly no gain to having him on the witness stand and linking him to the whole, sordid business of Eisner’s doomed alliance with Michael Ovitz. But it’s not as if Iger is a stranger on the subject of Ovitz.

The two men clashed from the start when Disney closed its merger with CapCities/ABC in early 1996. As ABC topper, Iger reported directly to Ovitz.

Iger wasn’t required to testify in the Ovitz trial since he wasn’t a defendant, but he was deposed in the case in October 2003. Like others, he tried to downplay that Ovitz was a complete disaster, or rather he developed a case of the “I don’t recalls.”

But Iger did confirm that he and Eisner had a heart-to-heart in May of 1996 and that thereafter, he largely reported to Eisner. During the trial, it came out that Eisner believed he would lose Iger if Ovitz didn’t go.

Going into Iger’s deposition, lawyers for the shareholders were asked not to show him an October 1996 memo by Eisner — which was subsequently made public — stating that he’d trust Iger to run Disney even if Iger wasn’t “an enlightened or brilliantly creative man, but with a strong board, he could absolutely do the job.”

Eisner praised Iger for being the kind of corporate exec who could keep Disney out of trouble and that Iger was “certainly steadier than Michael Ovitz by a thousand-fold.”