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Eisner Has Much to Say to Successor

Times Staff Writer

Michael and Bob, back together again.

In Thursday’s installment of the CNBC talk show “Conversations With Michael Eisner,” shot at Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, the former Walt Disney Co. chief executive welcomed the man who replaced him last year as the leader of the Burbank entertainment giant: Bob Iger.

“Its kind of odd for me to interview my successor,” Eisner, 64, said right off the bat. Then, he proceeded to do much of the talking -- and a little chiding. First, Eisner made it clear that he thought the jury was still out on whether Iger’s biggest move since taking the job -- the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion -- would prove financially sound.

“Everybody thinks I had a strained relationship with Steve Jobs.... Quite the opposite,” Eisner said of Pixar’s former chief. “My issue with Steve Jobs was only about money.”

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The implication was clear: Maybe Iger spent too much. “It probably will work out,” Eisner added. “There are occasions when you spend a lot of money and the quality starts to evaporate that it doesn’t work out. So it is a big bet.”

The 55-year-old Iger, who moments earlier had indicated that he believed Pixar would help reinvigorate Disney’s animation division, didn’t flinch.

With folded hands and tight smiles, the two men talked briefly of Iger’s determination to bring Disney into the digital age. Then Eisner got personal, asking about the difficult period at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005, when Iger was waiting for Disney’s board to decide whether to give him the top job.

Speculating that “the process ... must have been for you a nightmare,” Eisner told Iger that “it was clear you were going to get it in the end, at least to me, but ... you had to sit there and watch the board interview in front of you all these candidates who weren’t as qualified as you were.”

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“You did something in a million years I couldn’t do,” Eisner continued. “You kept your cool. For a year! I would have told everybody off.”

Iger still kept his cool, betraying not a hint of emotion.

“It was not clear to me what the outcome would be,” he responded, adding that he considers patience a virtue. “But it worked out all right.”

The conversation ended when Eisner took off what he said was his favorite Mickey Mouse tie and gave it to Iger, who was already wearing a striped blue cravat.

“I’m now really out of Disney,” Eisner said. “That’s it. My tie is gone. I still have my Mickey Mouse underwear, but that’s not here.”

“Boxers or briefs?” Iger asked, playing along.

“Both,” Eisner said.


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