Michael Eisner

Disney's not alone in succession woes

Disney's not alone in succession woes

The resignation of Thomas Staggs, heir apparent to the top job at Walt Disney Co., shows once again that even the best-laid plans for CEO succession can go awry.

Over the last decade, such corporate stalwarts as Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems and Lockheed Martin have seen designated heirs to the top executive seat abruptly depart.

"Any time a natural successor is no longer in the running, it creates questions," said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. "For the company, it throws some uncertainty into the mix."

Botching a succession at the top can be costly. Disney shares fell...