The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) board apparently believes its long-time chief executive officer, Bob Iger, cannot be replaced. It is among the most dangerous designations a company’s board can give a CEO. His performance cannot be matched. The board slacks off looking for a strong replacement. And then there is the problem Iger might stay around as chairman, casting a shadow over a replacement.
There are at least five executives who have track records to make them logical choices, both because of their successes and their experience in the entertainment and media industries.
Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. led the company’s digital initiatives long before digital distribution was a mainstream conduit for video. He is responsible for film, television and home entertainment, and he has pushed Warner into the video game sector. Tsujihara previously worked at Ernst & Young’s entertainment operations, working on both M&A and audit.
Les Moonves is the long-time head of CBS. He has labored under uncertain and rocky ownership of Sumner Redstone, a situation he might want to leave behind. As chairman and CEO of CBS, he has a portfolio that includes the network, its new operations, its studio operations, sports (experience that would help with Disney’s ESPN) and pay-TV Showtime. He also was the chief operating officer of Viacom.
Alan Horn, head of Disney’s wildly successful studio, served as COO of Warner Bros. during one of its most successful periods. Hits over that period include “The Dark Knight” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Horn is a founder of Castle Rock Entertainment, and he also sits on board of Univision. He has been at Disney since 2012, so he should know the ropes.
Richard Plepler is head of HBO, the world’s largest pay-TV operation. Plepler has had to make one of the largest transformations from cable and satellite to wireless and broadband, and he has long-time experience working with studios. Also, he was instrumental in the major content creation business. The most recent of these is “Game of Thrones,” but includes “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Sopranos.” Plepler has a wide variety of experience outside Time Warner, which includes Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Public Library and Asia Society.
The COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, says she won’t take the job. The board should give her the sky and moon to get her. She is one of the few people who could transform the company. Sandberg already sits on the Disney board. She is a former top executive at Google, as well as was chief of staff for U.S. Treasury Lawrence Summers.