Tom Staggs, current Chief Operating Officer for the Walt Disney Company, has resigned, announced the company April 4. The surprise announcement re-opens conversations as to who will succeed Bob Iger as Disney’s Chief Executive Officer.
Staggs will leave his current position with Disney on May 6, according to a Disney media statement. He will continue to serve as a special adviser to Iger until the end of the fiscal year in September.
Staggs was believed to be Iger’s chosen successor, especially after he was promoted to Disney’s No. 2 position in February 2015 over Jay Rasulo, another internal candidate. Iger himself had been COO under Michael Eisner before becoming CEO, and the promotion was widely viewed as Iger’s decision to groom Staggs for the company’s top position.
Staggs’ resignation is described as a mutual decision by the New York Times, which also reports some of the company’s board members were unconvinced that Staggs could maintain the momentum Disney has enjoyed under Iger. An inside source speaking to Variety claims Staggs chose to leave Disney after “pressing for a formal commitment” from the board, one which did not materialize.
Staggs’ unexpected departure comes at a time of close scrutiny by the entertainment, media and theme-park industries as well as Wall Street and financial experts. Disney has enjoyed strong performances with its film divisions – with a recent string of successes in both animated and live-action releases – and has acknowledged the significant challenges concerning its TV side, notably changes in consumer behavior, the effect of streaming technology and the future of ESPN.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts division is also being watched for its short- and long-term expansion plans. Shanghai Disney Resort, a project overseen by Staggs in his previous position as WDPR Chairman, has been marked by delays and cost overruns prior to his June expected opening. In August of last year, the company announced Disneyland Park Disney’s Hollywood Studios would add add Star Wars lands, playing into the long terms plan the company has following its 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm.
Iger praised Staggs’ contributions over the COO’s 26-year career with Disney.
“Tom has been a great friend and trusted colleague for more than 20 years,” Iger said in a statement. “He’s made important contributions to this company, earning wide respect across the organization for his achievements and personal integrity. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together, immensely grateful for the privilege of working with him, and confident that he will be enormously successful in whatever opportunity he chooses.”
Iger is expected to step down from his dually held positions as Chairman and CEO in June 2018, after delaying his retirement twice. It is likely the Disney will seek an outside candidate for the position for the first time in decades. Disney simply says its board members “will broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.”