Mouse house makeover

Co.'s moods, methods change under Iger

By Nicole Laporte
February 24, 2007

When Bob Iger was picked to become president and CEO of the Walt Disney Co. almost two years ago, his mandate was to bring order and equanimity -- and renewed growth -- to a Mouse House that had endured years of internal turmoil.

Iger has been successful at boosting growth, but peace is a tall order in the entertainment business.

In August, on the first day that Oren Aviv reported for duty as the president of Disney's Motion Picture Group -- a key element in Iger's turnaround plans -- he was hit with the publicity malfunction that was "Apocalypto," a film Disney was set to distribute.

Nothing could be as antithetical to the Disney brand as an intoxicated Mel Gibson making anti-Semitic slurs, but the "Apocalypto" crisis affirmed that the company is indeed on stable footing. Iger and Co. stood by the deal, released the film and saw it gross $50 million domestically -- hardly the disaster some had predicted, particularly considering that it was a negative pick-up.

Pegged by critics as a "suit" with limited vision, Iger is proving them wrong. Indeed, he is presiding over what may be the biggest revolution at Disney since Michael Eisner stormed the kingdom more than two decades ago.

Although the makeover extends throughout the company, the deepest reconfiguring has been in the company's live-action film, animation and new- media divisions, where there have been significant cutbacks, executive reshufflings and major acquisitions, led by Pixar.

Iger has been more hands-off in his approach to ABC, which has enjoyed more freshman hits this season than any other network with shows like "Ugly Betty" and "Brothers & Sisters."

The overhaul is still very much a work in progress, and has not been without bumps in the road, but Iger is overseeing it all in a cool, collected manner that reflects his persona.

Stockholders' response? A resounding "yes." Disney stock, after hitting a seven-year-low just before Iger's ascendance, has jumped 40% in the past year to $35 as of Feb. 22, tied with News Corp. atop the media sector. Earlier in February, Disney reported quarterly profits of 50 per share, 11 ahead of Wall Street expectations.

Iger's stewardship is still evolving, but his tolerance for risk and inclusive management style has helped restore investor confidence in the stock's potential, analysts say.

"Toward the end of his tenure, the celebrity part of Michael Eisner had taken over," says David Miller, a Sanders Morris Harris analyst. "People wanted a CEO who would be more of a roll-up-your-shirtsleeves kind of guy and that's what Iger is."

Adds Dennis McAlpine, an independent analyst: "Iger continues to win points simply for not being Eisner."

That statement is evident
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