UPDATED: Disney CEO Bob Iger said on an earnings call Tuesday that he would be open to extending his time at the head of the entertainment conglomerate beyond his current contract, which ends in June, 2018.
“If it’s in the best interest of the company to extend my term, I am open to that,” Iger said, in response to a question during the Q1 earnings call.
He added that no decision had been made, but that no one should interpret the lack of an announcement about a successor as evidence that Disney isn’t making progress in finding its next leader.
Iger’s comments came after Disney announced a slight slippage in its revenue and earnings for the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2016, which the company called its best ever.
Asked by analyst Michael Nathanson to respond to a Wall Street Journal story about succession at Disney, Iger initially quipped: “What is the second question?”
The Disney boss then agreed to answer the question, saying, “You know, when I targeted 2018 as the year I was going to leave the company it was a very personal decision. But I think, as you know, I have been with this company for 43 years and I have actually been CEO for almost a dozen years. I am going to do what is in the best interest of this company, which is something the board is clearly going to help to determine.”
Iger then sought to make clear that his statement did not mean he was committing to staying beyond 2018, which would mark the third extension of his employment contract.
“I am confident that my successor is going to be chosen on a timely basis and chosen well,” Iger said. “If it’s in the best interest of the company for me to extend my term, I am open to that. But there is nothing specific to announce at this point.”
“We have a good strong succession process under way,” Iger concluded. “The board is engaged in this, as I have said in the past, on a regular basis. And the absence of any announcements or specifics about it should in no way indicate otherwise.”
Iger tried many times previously to scotch rumors that he will extend his contract atop the entertainment conglomerate beyond its current June, 2018 expiration date. But on Tuesday, he acknowledged for the first time there was a chance he could stay longer.
But Disney’s succession planning was thrown topsy-turvy last April, when Iger’s heir apparent – COO Tom Staggs – abruptly stepped down after it was reported that the board did not believe he was up to taking over the top job.
In a corporation that has preferred to promote from within, the departure of Staggs and of one-time Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo, left no obvious No. 2.
The three most likely internal candidates currently are Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney/ABC television group and Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney’s parks and resorts and Kevin Mayer, the conglomerate’s chief strategy officer. But there has been no sign that any of the men is being groomed to take over from Iger.
Another name frequently floated as a successor is Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg sits on Disney’s board and some believe the company would be smart – given the flow of content to the internet – to elevate an executive who is savvy in the ways of the web. The Facebook exec tried to throw some cold water on the prospect of her taking the top Disney job last June, when she said, “I don’t want another job.”
The question of Iger’s next step has become more ripe as the date of his planned departure – the end of June, 2018 – has drawn closer. The CEO has extended his contract twice previously, both times pushing back his departure date more than 20 months before the looming deadlines. Iger is now less than 17 months away from his announced end date.
“His reported departure date is not all that far off,” said one Disney insider. “And, let’s face it, there has been a lot of uncertainty over succession for a very long time and people and the markets are going to want to know that they are putting some of that uncertainty to rest.”
Iger, 65, has said in the past that he intends to stick with the June, 2018 departure. He has told Wall Street analysts that the Disney board is working diligently on a succession plan. But the question keeps coming up.
The Disney board met last Friday. “I don’t know that they have a good viable alternative to replace Bob right now,” said the insider, “and the lack of search has been obvious, so I could see an extension.”