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Roy Vs. Eisner Vs. Iger: Which CEO Had The Best Run At Disney?

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Roy Vs. Eisner Vs. Iger: Which CEO Had The Best Run At Disney?

With the announcement this week that Bob Iger is stepping down as CEO of Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), with Bob Chapek becoming the storied company’s seventh CEO, we thought it would be interesting to compare the tenures of the chief executives at the House of Mouse.

Here’s a list of the Disney CEOs, followed by a look at key metrics over the years. 

  • 1929–1971: Roy O. Disney
  • 1971–1976: Donn Tatum
  • 1976–1983: E. Cardon Walker
  • 1983–1984: Ron W. Miller
  • 1984–2005: Michael Eisner
  • 2005–2020: Bob Iger
  • 2020–present: Bob Chapek

See Also: Iger Plus: What To Make Of The Disney CEO's Early Departure, Bob Chapek's Accession

Creating The Company’s Essence: Roy Disney And Bob Iger

Ultimately, the names that matter for Disney aren't "Eisner," "Iger" or even "Disney." They're "Mickey," "Mary Poppins," "Luke Skywaker" and "Tony Stark," among others.

For most, Disney isn't the executives, it's the characters it has thrust into American culture. And its success is dependent not on how much people like Bob Iger, but how much they like "Iron Man," "Star Wars" or "Toy Story" sequels.

The first phase in cementing the character culture came in the early years as Roy and Walt created Mickey Mouse and built a stable of figures nearly everyone knows, from Snow White in the company's first feature movie in 1937, to Mary Poppins, who also came on Roy Disney's watch, in 1964.

But three huge acquisitions, all completed by Iger, have defined the modern Disney.

The first was Pixar in 2006. Disney already had a relationship with the computer animation company going back to 1991, when Eisner's Disney financed Pixar's first film, "Toy Story."

The relationship continued through hits like "Finding Nemo" before the acquisition. But it was Iger who realized the need to keep the company from going to a different partner as he watched a parade of Disney characters at a park opening. It occurred to Iger that all of the new "Disney" characters were created by Pixar.

Iger also is responsible for Disney's 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, which gave Disney the highest-grossing film of all time, "Avengers Endgame," and the 2012 Lucasfilm acquisition, which brought the "Star Wars" movies into the House of Mouse.

Broadening The Audience: Roy Disney And Michael Eisner

Roy Disney was in charge as the company built its audience, going from solely an animated film company to a player in television as well in the 1950s. And Roy also headed the company as it created giant marketing venues with the Disneyland (1955) and Walt Disney World (1971) theme parks in California and Florida.

But Eisner also broadened Disney's market, including with a revitalized focus on those parks and a big expansion that led to other park properties around the world during the 1980s and 1990s, which Eisner dubbed "The Disney Decade."

Eisner also broadened Disney's reach into American homes through TV as Roy had done. Eisner did it by acquiring two already nearly universally known TV brands, ABC and ESPN. He also expanded Disney's appeal to adult movie-goers through the 1993 acquisition of Miramax Films.

It may be that one day you'll be able to add Iger to the section on broadening the audience.

If the company's Disney+ and Hulu streaming services are ultimately successful at making a Disney a fixture of the new wave of viewing — through streaming — as the company once did at the movies and on television, Iger will get the credit.

See Also: Here's How Long It Took Walt Disney Co. To Reach A $100B Market Cap

Stock Percentage Increase: Michael Eisner

In terms of percentage growth of share price, Eisner is the winner among the long-term CEOs, though his long two-decade reign is part of the reason.

Under Roy Disney, the stock dropped considerably shortly after going public in 1957, and stock splits lowered the price dramatically a couple of times. But from early 1962, when the shares were trading at below 20 cents, until Roy Disney's death in late 1971, the stock rose by nearly 600% to over $1.30 a share.

Over Iger's 14-year run as CEO, Disney stock went from about $24 to nearly $130 the day he announced he was stepping down, a 440% increase.

During Eisner's 21-year tenure, the stock shot from $1.21 per share to just under $24, an increase of more than 1,800%.

Still, Roy Disney should get some credit for taking the company public and Iger for overseeing a period of massive expansion in capitalization, during which time the stock's market cap passed $100 billion.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Photo by Ed Schipul via Wikimedia

 

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