Rich Ross: Disney is searching for a successor -- right?
Rich Ross' resignation as chairman of Walt Disney Studios Friday came without a clear successor in place, signaling a highly unusual era of instability at the studio.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger has told certain individuals who do business with the company that he has not made a decision about Ross' replacement, and did not indicate an urgency about doing so. In the meantime, Iger will rely on his production head, Sean Bailey (pictured), and president, Alan Bergman, to oversee the Burbank studio.
That hasn't stopped Hollywood from chattering about likely contenders, including Stacey Snider, chief executive and co-owner of DreamWorks Studios, which has a distribution deal with Disney. However, people close to Snider suggest that she's not going anywhere soon, since she and her DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg just signed a new, $200-million financing deal with their main investor, India's Reliance Entertainment.
Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, whose films are also distributed by Disney, is another option. Marvel's films have performed well for the studio, and its next release, "The Avengers," is likely to be the summer movie season's first blockbuster. But Feige's experience is limited to the superhero genre.
John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, is a powerful force at Disney, the rare executive who is popular with both shareholders and moviegoers. (At last year's D23 convention of Disney fans, he was the only executive to garner a standing ovation.) But Lasseter, who lives in Northern California and who directed last year's "Cars 2," has shown little desire to take on more corporate responsibilities.
Disney's next three releases may not require a chairman's hand, as they come from outside the studio's live-action division — "The Avengers" (May 4) is from Marvel, the animated fantasy "Brave" (June 22) from Pixar and the family drama "People Like Us" (June 29) from DreamWorks.
"It doesn’t surprise me that there isn't a succession plan," said one former Disney executive. "You have a really good guy in Sean Bailey, really good guy in Alan Bergman, who can make the ship go forward while you put the rest of the pieces together."
— Rebecca Keegan and Nicole Sperling
Photo: Walt Disney Studios production head Sean Bailey. Credit: Walt Disney Co.