Theme Park Insider

Vote of the Week: Who Should be Disney's CEO?

October 3, 2014, 11:14 AM · The decision to delay Bob Iger's retirement — again — raises the question: Who really ought to be running the Walt Disney Company? Originally, Iger was going to be stepping down next year, with a replacement named by now. That decision was kicked down the road for a year, and now the company's delayed a decision about a potential successor for yet another year. Iger won't be leaving until 2018.

Disney corporate headquarters
Who should get the top job in here?

Conventional wisdom in the business world has been that you don't want your CEO to be a lame duck. If the CEO is about to retire, you want a successor in place so that employees, vendors, licensors, and investors know who's going to be making the big-money decisions about spending and investments for the years to come. No one wants to be the one in a company on the hook for a multi-million or multi-billion dollar project without the support of the CEO. If you're taking on a multi-year project for which the current CEO won't be around, you need to know that you at least have the support of the incoming CEO. Otherwise, you're risking the future of the project... and your career with the company.

Iger's three times now announced a departure date from Disney, pushing that date further back with each announcement. Perhaps this is just a passive-aggressive way of walking away from the decision to retire at all. After all, Iger's 63 now — relatively young for a CEO. Disney's making sick money with him in charge and the stock market seems perfectly happy with Iger running the show. Disney's been making huge acquisitions: Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. It's been investing billions in cruise ships and its theme parks. There doesn't seem to be any loss of momentum at the company. And there's no clear choice to succeed Iger, either. Disney's been grooming Tom Staggs and Jay Rasulo as potential successors, with each serving as chief financial officer and the chairman of Disney Parks during Iger's tenure.

If there's one thing to be said about Disney under Bob Iger's leadership, it's that the company is making money. But if there's a knock on Iger, it's that under him the company seems to be only about making money. There's none of the futurism that Walt brought in his final years, the steadfast commitment to family entertainment of the Card Walker era, or the world-conquering expansion of the early Michael Eisner years. Under Iger, Disney rides its big-money franchises for everything they are worth.

Some Walt Disney World fans complain that Iger hasn't spent enough money to refurbish and expand that resort. Under Iger, Disney spends money to make money — not to win imaginary points from Disney fans on message boards. Initiatives such as MyMagic+, the New Fantasyland, and Disney Springs are directed at improving long-term financial performance at a resort that continues to lead the world in attendance and revenue. Iger's Disney is all about getting people to spend more money, not winning praise from critics while fans spend the same (or less!) on the company.

But could Disney being doing even more? Might Staggs or Rasulo provide a spark that would inspire the company to both greater commercial success while improving its critical appeal? Is there someone else at the company who could do better in the CEO role? Or does Disney need an outsider's leadership to achieve its potential?

It's Vote of the Week time. If you'd like to see someone other that Iger, Rasulo, or Staggs lead the Mouse House, tell us that name in the comments.


It's your turn to campaign for the Disney CEO job, in the comments. Tell us how you'd like to see the Walt Disney Company run!

Replies (32)

October 3, 2014 at 11:17 AM · Why no Robert Niles on this List?
October 3, 2014 at 12:20 PM · Who cares about that one person. He wont make a difference, expect a negative one if the salery is as insane as typical at Disney.
October 3, 2014 at 1:45 PM · I'm sorry but what exactly do you mean by "futurism?"
October 3, 2014 at 12:52 PM · power rankings:
1. god
2. moses
3. julius caesar
4. tim tebow
5. mickey mouse

let the voting begin!!!

October 3, 2014 at 1:45 PM ·
As for who might be a good choice for CEO -- there are a few names left off the list above: ABC entertainment president Ben Sherwood, Disney board member and former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and as for an outsider how about Peter Chernin -- the former President and Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation and current CEO of The Chernin Group.
October 3, 2014 at 1:49 PM · TH,

I was trying to get at the urban planning/tech development work being done by WED in anticipation of Epcot in the 1960s -- the stuff that really seemed to uh, animate, Walt before he was frozen in 1966. By the way, when is Vol. 2 coming out? ;^)

October 3, 2014 at 2:00 PM · To nominate another individual not currently on this list I'm choosing someone that is a bit of a hybrid of the options "Someone from outside Disney" and "Someone else from within the company:"
Toshio Kagami, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of Subsidiary, Representative Director of Oriental Land Co.
I think he has some experience running a quality theme park resort ;-)
October 3, 2014 at 2:18 PM · Matt Ouimet, CEO Cedar Fair, former president of Disneyland.
October 3, 2014 at 2:38 PM · All CEOs are overpaid. Why not have a real election... by the people, not just the stockholders (of which I am one). The people who really make Disney what it is are the cast members (which I am NOT one, just a wanna-bee). Why not let all cast members make that big decision. Let the contenders present their credentials and see who gets picked. As a stockholder, I'll buy more if I like their choice, and sell if I don't. My 24 visits have sold me that the cast memebrs ARE what makes Disney what it is.
October 3, 2014 at 3:58 PM · A Disney Theme Park should be full of magic, adventure, and everything Walt himself would be proud of...
Someone who walked in Walt Disney's shoes..
How bout offering it to Tom Hanks..
Ron Howard, or a Disney family member who is grounded..
Restore it to its special place in our hearts & mind.
not just a tourist trap..
October 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM · Iger has done pretty well at stopping the bleed that happened at the end of Eisner. I actually think he has been most successful in integrating Disney into the Apps and Smartphone age.

I will agree with Robert though that Iger seems to only care about money. It is under him that EPCOT has been a little lost.

October 3, 2014 at 4:30 PM · @ Robert and Anthony - You both must be aware that Robert Iger is regularly recognized as a tech smart CEOs.

Fortune named him the “Fortune 500: Tech Top Visionary.”

Business Insider listed him among the "10 Most Tech-Savvy Media CEOs."

October 3, 2014 at 4:53 PM · Robert Niles for CEO!!! Lets start the campaign!

With Mr. Niles we will get popcorn with all kind of flavors and Disney Sea.

October 3, 2014 at 6:04 PM · I think John Lasseter should have the job. Him, or someone else who cares about creating greatness and quality, and doing right by the company's theme parks.

In other words, someone who cares about something besides the almighty dollar.

October 3, 2014 at 7:53 PM · Some film executive outside the company (*Adam Goodman or Dan Fellman to name a few). I could also live/deal with Kathleen Kennedy. Point I'm trying to make here is it's time for Disney to bring in some new blood/leadership from outside the company and make a film executive in charge of a company and not a media executive for TWDC CEO/President.


*-One I prefer most

October 3, 2014 at 8:32 PM · I'll do it if noone else wants to do it. I'll make that sacrifice :p
October 3, 2014 at 8:36 PM · Catmull and Lasseter would be good choices for promotion. I don't necessarily know that I'd pick one as CEO, but I think Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer alongside a Staggs or Rafulo in the CEO chair and Catmull as President would make a good team, as long as John was empowered to really take a creative lead. Another interesting choice for me would be to make someone like Vaughn from WDI the CEO. They'd likely need a bit of grooming in order to get to grips with movies and TV, but I've always liked the idea of Imagineering being the governing principle of the company, as it was in many ways when Walt was in charge
October 6, 2014 at 10:23 AM · When Walt was in charge, the company hadn't yet bloated into an elephantine, "let's buy the world" unwieldy media conglomerate. A real visionary CEO would divest the company of its non-core assets and refocus on making the Disney name stand for greatness and quality once again.
October 3, 2014 at 10:43 PM · John Lasseter!
October 4, 2014 at 3:19 AM · Extraordinary.

October 4, 2014 at 3:51 AM · "If you completely play it safe you may get by for awhile, but eventually it will catch up to you." - Robert Iger

October 4, 2014 at 7:25 AM · This one is GREAT! At around 11 minutes he talks about Steve Jobs' brutal and vocal honesty. He says: "Steve called me one time and said 'Hey Bob, I saw that new movie you released last Saturday. It sucked!'"

October 4, 2014 at 12:12 PM · Jerry Jones. Just kidding, but maybe someone more focused on creativity. I really don't know too many execs.
October 4, 2014 at 2:01 PM · The who bit I'm not qualified to judge, but I have ideas for what they should do.

Movie wise they're making huge money, and even the occasional flop (Lone Ranger, John Carter) is an acceptable thing given that those were attempts at starting new franchises. I think they should broaden their cinematic endeavours to make more "independent" films. Although they dont make huge dollars, its a way of fostering new talent and enriches the culture of their movie making department.

The US economy is picking up so with them being in such a good financial position I think they should now look at an expanding their holiday facilities.

They need to develop their cruise line to offer a more global fleet, and perhaps have different classes of ships with a range targeting the non-family cruiser.

I think they should develop an alpine DVC "facility", either in Colorado or around Park City Utah. Tie it in with a ski resort (or maybe buy a resort) to offer a Disney experience in the snow. And yes, a Frozen tie in would be inevitable here, but shouldn't dominate (who knows what the longevity of Frozen may be).

They obviously need new development at their parks, and whilst they don't need to build as rapidly as Universal, they need to reach and exceed the bar set by Universal now in terms of quality.

Epcot should maintain its current grounding in reality, but with a boost from their IP. I think the new Frozen ride should have characters from frozen visiting Norway, rather than setting it in an artificial environment. Ratatouille should be developed in France.

Avatar probably can't match HP in terms of interactive theming, but should be the pinnacle of experience of a completely alien environment. Star Wars land should be officially announced with a time frame, even if they are waiting for the new movies.

Finally, open a third gate on the West Coast, no matter how costly it will still make money. Heroes and Villains is a popular theme and could obviously incorporate Marvel and Star Wars.

October 4, 2014 at 3:25 PM · My initial response to the suggestion of Tom Hanks was to laugh and move on.

However. The more I think about it, the more sense I think that he would make. He shares Walt's ability to see what "everyman" wants. Tom can reach down and find that child-like wonder that Walt had in his vision of what Disney Studios and the Disney Parks could and should be. He understands the reason for putting out quality products, not just junk that makes money. He has a reputation for honesty.

And yes, he understands money. Look at the movies which he has directed, produced, and starred in. In producing series such as Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and From the Earth to the Moon, he has shown that he can manage highly complex projects.

People like him. Now, the Wall Street folks may not think that is important, but the Disney brand is one which relies upon people trusting Disney.

The hard part would be to convince him to take the job. Oh yeah, and to convince the Disney suits that things are going to change.

October 4, 2014 at 5:30 PM · I suggest everyone invest the time to watch Brian Grazer's conversation with Robert Iger before making an assessment as to who should be CEO.

"Tom Hanks?" I mean ... seriously?

October 5, 2014 at 9:56 AM · Just like the best person to run a car company if you want new, exciting cars is an engineer. So the best person to run Disney is an excited, eager upper end Imagineer if you ask me.
October 6, 2014 at 10:28 AM · In response to Grant Crawford's post above:
I have another suggestion, although I doubt the WDC would ever do it. They should clone DisneySea as the fifth gate at WDW. With advancements in technology, they could probably even make improvements to the original. It would cost billions to build, but imagine what it would do for the resort. Most people will never make it to Japan to experience the original. DisneySea in Florida would be an irresistable lure, would soak up the crowds, and would compensate for any and all shortcomings at all the other parks.
October 6, 2014 at 2:21 PM · I think there needs to be more focus on the parks. Walt Disney World is overdue for a fifth gate and Epcot is starting to show its age more and more. I love going to Disney Parks but they need to add more ways for me to give my money to Disney. Rob Iger's focus has been more on the movie and merchandise end of things rather than improving the parks like Eisner did. I think they will announce their Star Wars plans next year so hopefully they will make it a big project, not just some refurbishment.
October 8, 2014 at 10:00 AM · Tony Baxter is the only logical option I see, but that will never happen since they drove him out of the company.
October 8, 2014 at 11:20 AM · By the time Mr. Iger steps down, Tony Baxter will be in his seventies.
October 8, 2014 at 5:41 PM · I really wonder how many of the folks posting here and making suggestions about who should be Disney's CEO invested the time to watch the interviews posted above before formulating their opinions.

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