iger 2mouse smallBREAKING NEWS! 4TH UPDATE: The Disney press release finally came in at 10:24 AM (see below). I first heard the rumor at 10:00 AM, and confirmed it minutes later. Wow, what a shocker from Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger who once again is demonstrating more out-of-the-box thinking and more willingness to shake up the status quo by buying Pixar and Marvel, and moving TV guy Rich Ross to Walt Disney Studios. Iger’s actions keep surprising not just the company but also Hollywood and Wall Street. And I hear that internally he’s also promising more job swaps in the future. Disney planned to announce this first switch later today when it reported its earnings: it means Disney SVP/CFO Tom Staggs will move over to chairman of theme parks and resorts, and Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo will move over to EVP/CFO.

But Disney insiders are denying outside speculation to me that Staggs may be in line for Disney COO yet the board won’t let him have that title until he has more operational experience. And, with Disney theme parks and resorts expanding into Shanghai, etc, this is an area where Staggs could make a name for himself. Disney insiders insist that Iger is feeling no pressure to name a successor since he’s relatively young and not going anywhere soon. Instead, I’m told that Iger sees this job swap, and more like it, as a way to motivate top Disney executives and to keep them from leaving the company and to prevent their jobs from growing stale precisely because there may be no room for advancement right now. “Both Staggs and Razulo are considerably talented execs who have been in their jobs a long time. This was Bob’s idea, which he obviously discussed at length with the board and found the board very enthusiastic about it. This is a way to broaden and deepen these executives’ experience and also stimulate them with new challenges and prepare them for more responsibility. It’s a great opportunity for them. And Bob plans to do this more in the future.”

And let’s not forget this also ensures top execs can’t build their own fiefdoms within the company, the major complaint against Walt Disney Studios chief Dick Cook which is why he lost the gig to Rich Ross recently. As an insider said to me, “It ensures they don’t get too comfortable in their jobs.”

THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY ANNOUNCES EXECUTIVE CHANGES

BURBANK , Calif., November 12—In line with The Walt Disney Company’s goals of advancing its global businesses and brands while providing new opportunities and challenges to executives, Disney President and Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Iger announced today that two of the company’s most senior leaders would assume new roles at the end of the year.

Thomas O. Tom Staggs, Senior Executive Vice President and Disney’s Chief Financial Officer and 20 year Disney veteran, will become Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. In his new position, Staggs will preside over the company’s vacation businesses, which span three continents and include five-world class destinations, a top rated cruise line and the most popular resort locations in North America, Europe and Asia.

James A. Jay Rasulo, Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts and a 23-year Disney veteran, will become Senior Executive Vice President and Disney’s Chief Financial Officer. In his new role, Rasulo will oversee the company’s worldwide finance organization, corporate strategy and development, brand management, corporate alliances, investor relations, treasury and risk management activities, controller functions, information systems, corporate responsibility, real estate and taxes.

Both will remain members of the senior management group reporting to Iger.

“Jay and Tom are both dynamic and versatile executives, who have done a great job over the last several years and have helped me to shape Disney’s strategic direction,” Iger said. “By giving them exciting new challenges that build on both their strengths at a time when each of their respective areas are on the right strategic track, the change is good for them and good for the company.”

As CFO, Staggs has helped guide Disney through one of its most important periods of expansion and financial success while steering it effectively through two sudden global economic downturns in 2001 and 2008. Throughout, he’s been praised by Wall Street for his financial and communication skills and has consistently been voted the country’s top entertainment industry CFO by analysts polled by Institutional Investor magazine.

Working closely with Iger, Staggs has played a critical role in a wide variety of Disney’s strategic and operating initiatives, including the acquisitions of Capital Cities/ABC, Pixar and the pending acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. As CFO, he spearheaded Disney’s realignment of its performance goals toward a combination of profit growth and strong long term capital returns and free cash flow. He has also led company efforts to drive greater cost and capital efficiency throughout the organization and to put in place well-received company-wide environmental and healthy food policies.

“For over a decade, I’ve had a unique opportunity to build our business by collaborating with a group of great executives running a wide range of media and travel businesses,” said Staggs. “Taking the operational reins of one of our biggest and most complex businesses during the period of rapid global expansion launched by Jay is tremendously exciting and a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”

Under Rasulo’s leadership, Parks and Resorts has built on its traditional strengths as the world’s preeminent theme park operator to create a range of businesses that have made Disney a global leader in the family vacation industry.

As part of this growth strategy, Rasulo has overseen a major expansion of Disney’s California Adventure at Disneyland Resort, which culminates with the opening of Cars Land in 2012, and of Hong Kong Disneyland, where work is underway on the creation of three original new lands. He has also led negotiations with the Chinese government to begin development of a new theme park in Shanghai.

In addition to park expansion, Rasulo has been the principal architect of the growth of the award-winning Disney Cruise Line, which is currently adding two new ships, Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney. Prior to becoming head of Disney Parks and Resorts in 2002, Rasulo greatly improved the operating performance of Disneyland Paris, now the number one tourist destination in Europe.

By emphasizing innovative marketing, strategic investment and financial discipline, Rasulo has also deftly managed the Parks and Resorts businesses through difficult periods, first as the unit’s President after tourism plummeted globally in the wake of 9/11 and later as Chairman during the 2008-09 economic downturn. Throughout, he’s been an important advocate for the tourism industry, serving as Chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America in 2006 and 2007. Rasulo was inducted into the Travel Industry Hall of Leaders in 2008.

“It’s been a tremendous honor to lead the almost 100,000 Cast Members, Crew Members and Imagineers during a period of unprecedented investment at Disney Parks and Resorts ,” said Rasulo. “I look forward to building on Tom’s success as CFO by working with Bob to advance Disney’s growth strategy, while continuing to strengthen our balance sheet and create shareholder value.”

Both Rasulo and Staggs are longtime Disney executives and both serve on the board of Euro Disney S.C.A., the French parent company of Disneyland Paris.

Rasulo joined Disney in 1986 as Director, Strategic Planning and Development, advancing to more senior positions there, and later became Senior Vice President, Corporate Alliances. He then led Disney Regional Entertainment before moving to Paris as President, Euro Disney before eventually becoming its Chairman and CEO in 2000. A native New Yorker, Rasulo has a degree in economics from Columbia University and both an MA in economics and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Before joining Disney, he held positions with Chase Manhattan Bank and the Marriott Corp.

Staggs joined Disney in 1990 as Manager of Strategic Planning and soon advanced through a series of positions of increased responsibility, becoming Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development in 1995 before becoming CFO and Executive Vice President in 1998. Born in Illinois, Staggs received a BS in business from University of Minnesota and an MBA from Stanford University. He worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley & Co. before joining Disney.

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