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Mouse In-House: Disney Taps Iger As Its New CEO

After months of scrutiny around the selection process for a new CEO to replace Michael Eisner, The Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors decided not to rock the boat, selecting current president and CEO Robert Iger.

Disney announced March 13 it had selected Iger — the only internal candidate for the job — to succeed Michael Eisner as CEO, after an extensive search process that began last year.

A 30-year veteran of Disney and Capital Cities/ABC Inc., Iger is slated to assume his new position Oct. 1.

Disney has been searching since last September, when Eisner said that he would not seek to have his employment contract renewed when it expires in 2006. Disney said it wanted to name a replacement by this June.

Iger’s appointment came as no surprise. He had been Eisner’s personal choice and was widely viewed as the front-runner for the post.

According to published reports, eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman was also in the hunt, but removed herself from contention.

In a conference call with reporters March 13, Disney chairman George Mitchell declined to say how many candidates were considered overall, but stressed Iger’s “deep understanding” of Disney culture and his role in the success of the media giant as key criteria for his selection.

Mitchell also addressed what some critics had feared concerning an Iger appointment — that he would be a carbon copy of his former boss, Eisner.

“There will be changes. Bob is not Michael,” Mitchell said on the call.

Just what those changes will be remains to be seen. While Disney has not commented, observers speculate that the top candidates for Iger’s old job include ABC-Disney Television Group president Anne Sweeney; Disney studio chief Dick Cook; chief financial officer Tom Staggs; and consumer-products chief Andy Mooney.

Fulcrum Global Partners analyst Richard Greenfield was not surprised by Iger’s appointment, but worried he may try to close two critical deals quickly — Disney’s expiring contracts with Pixar animation studios and the National Football League — when he is at an obvious negotiating disadvantage.