On this day in 2005, Michael Eisner resigns as the chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company. During Eisner’s 21-year tenure with Disney, he helped transform it into an entertainment industry giant whose properties included films, theme parks and a cruise line, television networks and sports teams. Eisner also presided over a “golden age” of animation, during which Disney produced such blockbuster films as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King and became a merchandising powerhouse.
Michael Eisner was born on March 7, 1942, in New York. After graduating from Denison University in 1964, he worked his way up through the programming ranks in network television. In 1976, the chairman of the board of Paramount Pictures, Barry Diller, hired Eisner as the company’s president and CEO. During Eisner’s time at Paramount in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the studio produced such hit films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Footloose, Ordinary People, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Terms of Endearment and An Officer and a Gentleman.
In 1984, Eisner joined Disney as chairman and CEO. Under Eisner’s leadership, Disney produced a number of animated films--some of which later became blockbuster Broadway productions--and acquired Miramax Films and Capital Cities (which owns ABC, A&E, ESPN and The History Channel, among other TV networks). In 1993, Disney founded the Anaheim Ducks, a professional ice hockey team.
Amidst all his success, Eisner became involved with a lawsuit concerning the former Disney movie studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg and a multi-million dollar severance package given to Michael Ovitz, who briefly served as Disney president under Eisner. In 2004, Roy Disney, nephew of the company’s founder, resigned his board seat to protest what he reportedly perceived as Eisner’s mismanagement. At the time, Disney’s stock was down and its ABC TV network was doing poorly in the ratings. At a March 2004 meeting, 43 percent of the voting shareholders expressed their lack of confidence in Eisner, and a new chairman of the board was appointed. Eisner stayed on as the company’s CEO for the next year and a half, until formally stepping down on September 30, 2005. His former second-in-command, Robert Iger, succeeded him.
Since 2006, Eisner has hosted his own cable talk show on CNBC, Conversations with Michael Eisner.