Disney CEO Michael Eisner will retire. He'll step down when his contract ends in 2006, after more than two decades as one of entertainment's biggest moguls

By Gary Susman
Updated September 10, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hey, Michael Eisner: This month marks your 20th anniversary as the CEO of Disney, making you one of Hollywood’s biggest and longest-lasting moguls. This year, you barely survived a bitter revolt among shareholders and your board of directors. What are you going to do now? ”I’m going to Disneyland!” That’s what Eisner actually said, in a letter to the Disney board dated Thursday, announcing his retirement, effective in Sept. 2006, when his contract runs out.

Eisner came to Disney in 1984 and, as he noted in his letter, helped transform the company from a $1.7 billion-a-year movie studio and theme park operation into a worldwide media conglomerate that expects to gross $30 billion this year. Along the way, he oversaw Disney’s purchase of such properties as ABC and ESPN, turning the company into a broadcast and cable TV giant. In recent years, however, he’s come under fire from both stockholders and a faction of his board (led by Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew), who’ve blamed his management for such problems as ABC’s long hitless streak, the company’s contentious relationship with such movie profit-generators as Miramax (which Disney bought in 1993) and Pixar (whose computer-animated movies have been some of Disney’s biggest hits of the last decade), and his own failure to designate a successor in the decade since the company lost such presumptive heirs as Frank Wells (who died in a 1994 helicopter crash) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (who defected to cofound DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen).

Earlier this week, however, Eisner told the Los Angeles Times that Disney president Robert Iger is his choice as successor. (The board, from which Eisner was ousted as chairman earlier this year, may have other candidates in mind.) In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said on Friday that his retirement was ”not asked for, not motivated by current circumstances at all.” Rather, said the 62-year-old, the decision was based on what he called personal and professional interests. He concluded his letter to the board by citing the famous ad slogan that he attributed to his wife, Jane, saying, ”I can only conclude by telling you what I am doing next. ‘I’m going to Disneyland!”’