An executive shuffle is about to take place at the Walt Disney Co. now that Bob Iger has named Tom Staggs as chief operating officer.
That includes naming a new head of the company’s theme parks, which Staggs, 54, has overseen for the past decade. That role is key for the company, given that resorts are Disney’s second biggest moneymaker behind its media networks. Oversight of the parks — there are 11 worldwide, with Shanghai Disneyland set to open in spring 2016 — will continue to be managed by Staggs for now.
Who will become chief financial officer is also at play, given that Jay Rasulo has yet to sign a new contract to remain in the position. His current contract expired in January, and he has not yet signed a new deal and is presently working as an at-will employee.
There are several candidates being considered for both roles.
For the parks position, Bob Chapek, who has served as president of Disney Consumer Products since 2011, may be the lead contender. He oversees the company’s fourth-largest division, which manages licensing and retail operations. The division generated $40 billion from licensing sales alone in 2013, up from $30 billion in 2008, cementing Disney’s position as the world’s largest licensor. Chapek had been president of distribution for the Walt Disney Studios for two years and was president of the studios’ homevideo arm prior to that.
Some inside Disney speculate that Kevin Mayer, a widely respected executive who’s served as executive VP of corporate strategy and business development since 2005, could be first in line for the CFO post. He’s played a key role in Disney’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Club Penguin and Maker Studios. He also oversaw Disney’s foreign investments in India and the sale of the company’s stakes in Miramax and ABC Radio.
James Pitaro also is said to be a potential candidate to replace Chapek should that executive get promoted to chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. As president of Disney Interactive, Pitaro turned that division around by making it profitable, after years of losses, with breakout hit “Disney Infinity” and a more mobile-centric gaming strategy. Pitaro served as VP of Yahoo Media before joining Disney.
Over the years, Iger has preferred to look within the Disney family when naming executives to major positions. And that’s not expected to change this time around. He prefers executives who know all facets of Disney’s businesses, and he tends to like to shuffle the deck and move his players around, as he did six years ago with Staggs and Rasulo.
Staggs had served as Disney’s CFO for 11 years before heading up the parks division. Rasulo, who had run Disney’s parks, swapped jobs with Staggs in 2009 to become CFO.
In announcing Stagg’s promotion Thursday, Iger said the executive’s “proven ability to lead a business as well as his successful tenure as Disney’s former CFO make him an ideal chief operating officer, expanding his portfolio into all the company’s businesses.”
With Mayer and Chapek, Iger has two viable candidates who have headed up Disney’s largest divisions, with Pitaro likely to fill in one of their roles should they be elevated.
There is yet another potential wrinkle in that Iger said last year that he hadn’t ruled out naming an exec to serve as president — a position that has led to the CEO role at Disney in the past. Iger had served as president and COO before being named CEO in 2005.
And there’s also a scenario being discussed in which Iger merges Disney Interactive within Disney Consumer Products, according to sources, a move that could make sense now that “Disney Infinity” requires players to purchase physical figures to interact with the game — characters that come from all of Disney’s film and TV properties.
Staggs’ appointment came after Iger met with Disney shareholders Thursday. Disney’s annual shareholders meeting will take place March 12 in San Francisco, where Iger’s next appointments could be made, although sources tell Variety that those moves are likely to happen before the shareholders meeting.
The next three years — Iger is set to step down in 2018 — are viewed as a period during which Iger will groom Staggs to take over as Disney’s new chairman.
However, Disney’s board members will be keeping a close eye on how Staggs performs as COO during that time, and the three-year period gives the company enough time to choose another potential successor should they not agree on the executive’s performance.
By no means is Stagg’s promotion “a guarantee” that he will replace Iger, a source close to the situation told Variety.
(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)