Eisner Bids Farewell to Disney

Friday is Disney CEO Michael Eisner's last day on the job. He took over as chairman and chief executive in 1984 and transformed Disney into a media colossus. But a shareholder revolt in 2004 cost Eisner his chairman's title and eventually, his job.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In today's business news, we look at the end of an era at Walt Disney. Today is Michael Eisner's last day as chief executive of the Walt Disney Company. NPR's Kim Masters has this report.

KIM MASTERS reporting

Eisner held the top job at Disney for 21 years. That's a good run. But when he speculated on his longevity a few years ago on "The Charlie Rose Show," he thought he might stay longer than that.

(Soundbite of "The Charlie Rose Show")

Mr. MICHAEL EISNER (Walt Disney Company): Well, assuming good health, which I have, I would expect to stay there forever, at least as long as I'm alive.

MASTERS: When Eisner took over as chairman and chief executive in 1984, Disney was adrift. He moved quickly to exploit the company's untapped resources. He boosted profits instantly merely by raising the price of a ticket to the theme park. The company made a fortune by releasing its animated classics on video. Eisner's team then transformed Disney into a media colossus. The company acquired ABC and ESPN, opened new theme parks and launched cruise ships as well as Broadway shows. It released animated hits like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King."

(Soundbite of "Lion King")

Unidentified Man: (Chanting)

Group: (Chanting)

MASTERS: But in the latter half of his tenure, Eisner engaged in a series of high-profile battles. An embarrassing and costly lawsuit resulted after his 1994 firing of studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had presided over Disney's resurgence in animation. More litigation sprang from his expensive firing of former super-agent Michael Ovitz as president of the company in 1996. And there were other draining fights. As Disney's homegrown animation faltered after Katzenberg's departure, the company enjoyed a partnership with animation powerhouse Pixar until Eisner clashed with Steve Jobs. Then there was Eisner's run-in with Roy Disney, Walt's nephew, led a devastating shareholder revolt in 2004 that led to Eisner losing his chairman's title and eventually his job. Eisner's departure came far sooner than he anticipated. At 63, Eisner may well have another act in him, but what he plans to do next is not known. Back when he talked to Charlie Rose, he was only 55, and he couldn't envision life after Disney.

(Soundbite of "The Charlie Rose Show")

Mr. CHARLIE ROSE: Can you imagine leaving at 65?

Mr. EISNER: No.

Mr. ROSE: You can't?

Mr. EISNER: No. No. What would I do?

Mr. ROSE: I don't know.

Mr. EISNER: I'm not good at gardening.

Mr. ROSE: You...

MASTERS: It seems doubtful that Eisner's future will involve a rake and a bag of fertilizer. Replacing Eisner at Disney is former number two man Robert Iger. He has already peace with Roy Disney. Many in Hollywood expect that a new deal with Pixar is next. Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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