Dis­ney CFO to quit post

Jay Ra­sulo, passed over for the com­pany’s No. 2 job, is step­ping down.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Daniel Miller

Walt Dis­ney Co. Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Jay Ra­sulo, who ear­lier this year was passed over for the Bur­bank com­pany’s No. 2 job, will step down from his post at the end of the month.

Ra­sulo’s im­pend­ing de­par­ture is the lat­est change in the ex­ec­u­tive ranks of the en­ter­tain­ment gi­ant. The moves have been trig­gered by Dis­ney’s el­e­va­tion of Thomas Staggs — the for­mer head of the com­pany’s parks and re­sorts di­vi­sion — to the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer role in Fe­bru­ary.

Ra­sulo and Staggs had com­peted for that cov­eted job, which is widely seen as a groom­ing post for the com­pany’s next CEO. Dis­ney Chair­man and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Robert Iger is ex­pected to re­tire when his con­tract ex­pires in 2018.

Now, Staggs’ for­mer ri­val will move on — per­haps to a

top job at an­other en­ter­tain­ment and me­dia firm, an­a­lysts said.

“What I would ex­pect next is for Jay to have sev­eral CEO of­fers, be­cause he was run­ner-up for the big­gest job in the me­dia world,” said Laura Martin, an an­a­lyst at Need­ham & Co. who cov­ers Dis­ney. “I think he is a re­ally ca­pa­ble op­er­a­tor.”

Af­ter be­ing passed over, Ra­sulo, 59, was widely ex­pected to de­part the com­pany he’d worked for since 1986 in var­i­ous roles, in­clud­ing as chair­man of the parks and re­sorts unit.

Dis­ney has made a string of ex­ec­u­tive ap­point­ments since Staggs was named chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. In May, the com­pany named Les­lie Fer­raro pres­i­dent of its con­sumer prod­ucts di­vi­sion; she took over for Bob Chapek, who was tapped to fill Staggs’ old job as head of the parks and re­sorts group.

Dis­ney said it would an­nounce a new fi­nance chief at a later date. Ra­sulo, who be­came CFO in 2010, will serve as an ad­vi­sor to Iger af­ter va­cat­ing his cur­rent po­si­tion.

Iger and Ra­sulo were not made avail­able for in­ter­views, but both re­leased state­ments about the ex­ec­u­tive’s forth­com­ing exit. Iger praised Ra­sulo for be­ing a “val­ued col­league and friend,” and Ra­sulo said it was a “true honor” to work at Dis­ney.

Ac­cord­ing to a Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion fil­ing, Ra­sulo, who earned $16.2 mil­lion in fis­cal year 2014, had been work­ing at Dis­ney with­out a con­tract since his deal there ex­pired Jan. 31.

Un­til Fe­bru­ary, Ra­sulo and Staggs had been locked in a race to suc­ceed Iger, 64, who twice in re­cent years had ex­tended his con­tract with Dis­ney. In 2010, Staggs took over the parks di­vi­sion from Ra­sulo, who slid into the CFO role that had been pre­vi­ously held by Staggs. The job switch was seen as a way for the com­pany to broaden the ex­ec­u­tives’ ex­pe­ri­ence and to see how they would per­form in dif­fer­ent roles.

Both Staggs and Ra­sulo had staunch sup­port­ers within Dis­ney, which took care to not let the race be­come a messy, public mat­ter. Suc­ces­sion at the com­pany has be­come a highly man­aged process since the awk­ward hand­off from for­mer Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Eis­ner to Iger in 2005.

Although Dis­ney’s re­cent suc­ces­sion face-off lin­gered — and will now re­sult in the de­par­ture of a key ex­ec­u­tive — the com­pany avoided the drama of an­other re­cent, high-pro­file Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tive bake-off. At Warner Bros., an ugly battle for the com­pany’s top job be­came a dis­tract­ing process be­fore Kevin Tsu­ji­hara took over as stu­dio chief in early 2013. Within three months, Tsu­ji­hara’s ri­vals for the po­si­tion — Jeff Robi­nov and Bruce Rosen­blum — had left the Bur­bank com­pany.

Credit the rel­a­tively smooth process at Dis­ney to Iger, said Peter Whit­ford, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Dis­ney Stores World­wide.

“If there was a fight in the early days un­der Eis­ner, it used to hap­pen in [the press], but Iger did a lot to stop that,” said Whit­ford, who left the com­pany in 2003. “It was his choice to make things a lit­tle tighter.”

Ra­sulo, a na­tive of New York, joined Dis­ney nearly 30 years ago af­ter a stint as a manager at Mar­riott Corp. Dur­ing his parks and re­sorts ten­ure, Dis­ney opened Hong Kong Dis­ney­land and be­gan a sig­nif­i­cant remodel of the Cal­i­for­nia Adventure theme park in Ana­heim.

He was also pre­vi­ously chair­man and CEO of Euro Dis­ney and has been cred­ited with re­vi­tal­iz­ing Dis­ney­land Paris af­ter it opened in 1992 to poor re­views.

He also worked on the $4bil­lion pur­chase of Lu­cas­film in 2012 and over­saw last year’s ac­qui­si­tion of dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion house Maker Stu­dios.

“He’s def­i­nitely an ex­ec­u­tive who will have choices based on his ex­pe­ri­ence at Dis­ney — not just in the CFO role, but in the parks role, and his in­ter­na­tional back­ground,” said Whit­ford. “He has highly de­sired skills.”

There is a prece­dent of high-level Dis­ney ex­ec­u­tives leav­ing the com­pany when they are passed over for top jobs.

Fa­mously, for­mer Dis­ney stu­dio head Jef­frey Katzen­berg de­parted in 1994 af­ter Eis­ner did not el­e­vate him to the pres­i­dent post. Katzen­berg went on to co-found Dream­Works SKG.

Robin Diedrich, an an­a­lyst for Ed­ward Jones Re­search, said it would be a sur­prise if Dis­ney brought in an out­sider to be CFO. With the no­table ex­cep­tion of Eis­ner and the hir­ing of tal­ent agent Michael Ovitz as pres­i­dent in 1995, Dis­ney usu­ally pro­motes from within for its top jobs.

The an­nounce­ment of Dis­ney’s next CFO could come in about a month, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the mat­ter who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

Dis­ney watch­ers said that long­time com­pany ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Mayer could be con­sid­ered for the job, among other can­di­dates at the com­pany.

Mayer, who is ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate strat­egy and busi­ness devel­op­ment, has over­seen sev­eral of the com­pany’s no­table ac­qui­si­tions, in­clud­ing those of Lu­cas­film and Maker.

Staggs is now the in­ter­nal front-run­ner to be­come the next CEO of Dis­ney, a sprawl­ing com­pany that has 180,000 em­ploy­ees and is val­ued at more than $185 bil­lion on Wall Street. Dis­ney has pre­vi­ously used the No. 2 po­si­tion to pre­pare in­com­ing CEOs — Iger held the job from 2000 to 2005.

How­ever, Staggs’ el­e­va­tion to chief ex­ec­u­tive is not pre­or­dained: Be­tween now and 2018, his lead­er­ship will be scru­ti­nized by Dis­ney’s board of di­rec­tors, which will se­lect the com­pany’s next leader.

It’s also pos­si­ble that Dis­ney could eye an out­sider for the CEO po­si­tion.

Brad Bar­ket Getty Images

JAY RA­SULO, shown in 2008 when he was head of Walt Dis­ney Co.’s parks and re­sorts di­vi­sion, is step­ping down from his post as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

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