Pride Rock is the mythical precipice from which the Lion King peers down on his subjects. For Michael Eisner, long-reigning chief of Walt Disney Co.--creator of the feline franchise and many others in his two decades at the top--the time has come to swallow his pride and come down from the mountain.
Nudged to retire before he was ready to leave, Eisner, 63, recently landed in Hong Kong for one of his last official acts. He had his key supporters at his side--his wife of 38 years, one of his three sons, his sister and his best friend from childhood--all there as he capped off 21 years as Disney's chief executive. Two weeks before his resignation became official on Oct. 1, he cut the ribbon and unveiled the company's 11th theme park, Hong Kong Disneyland, opening a gateway to China and vast growth in the years ahead.
"I like the timing of this," he said at ceremonies with representatives of the Hong Kong government, Disney's partner in the $4 billion project. "I made sure my tenure did not end until Hong Kong Disneyland opened and several other things were wrapped up. I'm so pleased with the way it has all come out."
But this ending is bittersweet. The past six years have been tumultuous and difficult with Disney's stock dropping 3.7% per year compared with an annual drop of 1.5% for the Dow Index. He leaves at least a year earlier than planned, after weathering criticism from the late founder's nephew and being pressured out of the chairman's title by his own handpicked board. Along the way Eisner, a favorite villain for critics of out-of-control compensation, came to be seen as arrogant and imperious, cruising for a comeuppance in this post-Enron era of the diminished corporate chieftain. And now, it seems, his foes have won.