Eisner to Leave Disney

Embattled Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner sent a letter to the company’s Board of Directors Thursday detailing his plans to step down when his contract expires on Sept. 30, 2006. His departure from the House of Mouse will coincide with the 20th anniversary of his appointment as CEO.

In the letter, Eisner reminds Board members that Disney has grown from a $1.7 billlion-a-year company to a $30 billion-a-year juggernaut under his supervision, and defends questionable management decisions by pointing out the unique nature of the entertainment business. He states, “We must consider, develop, discard and reconsider, literally masses of ideas each day, based on few inexact criteria, using experience, talent, judgment, instinct and hope as our guides along with our education and experience and sense of fiscal responsibility. This is a complicated and risky process, unlike the manufacture and sale of a single or related line of product. We are judged by definitive standards.”

Eisner also makes reference to a commitment to 3D animation in stating his objectives for the next two years. He writes, “We are determined to continue to improve our performance through our focused attention on our creative initiatives, from the studio to the media networks, from our three-dimension worlds to our cyber future, from one end of the globe to the other.”

In March of this year, Eisner was relieved of hs duties as chairman of The Walt Disney Co. when the Board of Directors decided to separate the positions of CEO and chairman. The Board unanimously elected former Sen. George Mitchell to serve as a non-executive chairman in Eisner’s place.

As he fulfills contact, Eisner will assist the Board in selecting the new CEO. Pundits are floating Pixar and Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a possible replacement. Since Pixar has yet to name a distributor to take over when its commitment to Disney expires with the 2006 release of Cars, Eisner’s departure may leave the door open for a joining of the two companies. Jobs has expressed a fondness for Disney and its distribution network despite his long-standing differences with Eisner.

The news of Eisner’s impending retirement comes just one day after the death of legendary animator Frank Thomas, one of Disney’s famed Nine Old Men and a major contributor to the company’s rich legacy.