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Disney COO Staggs Stepping Down

Walt Disney Co. chief operating officer Thomas Staggs, thought by many to be the heir-apparent to chairman and CEO Robert Iger, is stepping down, effective May 6. 

The move was unexpected. Staggs had apparently won a battle for the No. 2 spot at Disney last year when he was named COO in February and chief financial officer Jay Rasulo resigned four months later.  With Staggs now out of the picture, the succession plan for Iger, who is scheduled to retire in two years, is thrown into disarray.

In a statement, Disney said its board of directors “will broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.”

Staggs will remain as special advisor to the CEO, through this fiscal year.

“Tom has been a great friend and trusted colleague for more than 20 years,” Iger said in a statement. “He’s made important contributions to this company, earning wide respect across the organization for his achievements and personal integrity. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together, immensely grateful for the privilege of working with him, and confident that he will be enormously successful in whatever opportunity he chooses.”

Staggs has been with Disney for 26 years, most of that as Iger’s right-hand man, serving as chief financial officer and leading its Parks & Recreation division. While Staggs has been part of the company’s successful plans to buy Pixar Animation, Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars franchise, lately its stock has been hammered by weakness in its television segment as sports network ESPN has lost subscribers due to cord cutting and skinny bundles.

According to a report in the New York Times, Staggs had come under intense scrutiny by the board in recent months, and some board members doubted his ability to run the broader company and maintain its "creative momentum." According to the Times report, Staggs' and the board together agreed to part company.

“Disney truly stands alone, not only because of the company’s phenomenal creativity, but also because of the thousands of remarkable people who make it such an extraordinary place.,’ Staggs said in a statement. “It’s been a privilege to work with them and be inspired by their creativity and commitment. It’s also been a great experience to work with Bob during this dynamic era of unprecedented growth and transformation. I remain grateful for that opportunity, and I’m confident that Disney’s future will be just as exciting as its legendary past.”