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Cook's exit comes after studio's weak performances and criticisms from Iger

September 18, 2009 |  6:57 pm

Dick Cook's 38-year career at Walt Disney Co., which started in 1971 as a monorail operator at Disneyland, came to an abrupt end Friday afternoon when he told his staff that he was resigning as chairman of Walt Disney Studios.


COOK

The move comes as the studio has been under increasing scrutiny for its lackluster performance. In Disney's third quarter, which ended June 30, the studio lost $12 million, its first loss since 2005. That followed a second-quarter performance that saw the studio's operating income fall by 97% to $13 million.

Disney CEO Bob Iger had been critical of Cook and the studio in recent chats with Wall Street analysts. In February, Iger dismissed a question about whether the weak economy was hurting the movie division. "It's not the marketplace, it's our slate," Iger said.

Disney has not said anything yet about how it will handle Cook's departure. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail that "when we have something to announce we will announce it." Unlike many departures of well-regarded executives who have spent their careers with one company, there was no slow transition to a new era here. 

Internally, Iger was growing increasingly frustrated with Cook's management style, people familiar with the situation said, citing Cook's tendency to play his cards close to the vest.

A Disney lifer, Cook told his staff that he felt he was a square peg in a round hole. In a statement, Cook said, "I have been contemplating this for some time now and feel it’s the right time for me to move on to new adventures … and in the words of one of my baseball heroes, Yogi Berra, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

This summer has been a good one for Disney as Pixar's "Up" has been a huge hit and the romantic comedy "The Proposal" also delivered a solid performance. However, Pixar pretty much runs on its own. Where Disney has struggled is in developing what used to be the backbone of the company -- family-friendly entertainment and content it can milk across all its platforms including theme parks.

Cook's exit comes just a few weeks after Disney agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Iger was front and center in detailing that deal and how it would boost the company and its movie operations.

Update (Saturday, 12:05 AM): For more, read the story in Saturday's Times.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Joe Flint

Photo: Dick Cook. Credit: Walt Disney Co.

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