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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 08:03 GMT
Profile: Michael Eisner
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter

Disney chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner

The Walt Disney Company's powerful chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, has been under attack for a long time, though in the past he has only had to deal with "friendly fire".

That has just changed.

Mr Eisner's battle with Comcast, the cable firm whose hostile takeover bid that has rattled his cage, is in a different league from his ongoing feud with founding father Walt Disney's nephew, Roy.

So far, Mr Eisner has come out on top in the internal feud, despite name calling by Roy Disney who in his letter of resignation from the Disney board described him as a greedy man without a soul.

But Roy Disney's departure did little more than bruise the six-foot-three tall Mr Eisner.

Rather, the top dog arose from the dust to gloat.

Excuses?

Disney's share price gained about a third during 2003 and its latest quarterly figures were pleasant reading after a five-year patch of turbulence and distinctly disappointing results.

The 61-year-old Mr Eisner is not a pushover, having held on to the top job since 1984.

Throughout tricky periods, the New York-born father of three has revealed an enviable knack of blaming tough market conditions and other factors beyond his control.

Suffering theme parks? Well, it has been the fault of the reluctance of the public to travel following 11 September. And so on.

But although, from time to time, Mr Eisner's excuses may have been convincing, it also seems clear that he has made several inexplicable blunders that have cost Disney dear - for example, his much publicised failure to salvage Disney's lucrative distribution deal with the computer animation firm Pixar.

There is growing reluctance among his critics, including many Disney shareholders, to accept his force majeure-style excuses.

Under fire

But Mr Eisner is a survivor.

This has been partly attributed to his firm grip on Disney's board of directors.

Scrooge
Is Michael Eisner a greedy man?
According to the New York Times, "the Disney board once included Michael Eisner's lawyer, his architect and the principal of his kids' school".

Business Week, meanwhile, has raised questions about the board's independence, insisting that one current board director's wife is a well paid Disney employee while another is a former Disney consultant.

Off course, none of this seems to matter to Mr Eisner.

Far from having a tender personality, as one might expect from a former English literature and theatre graduate, he is known for his direct, domineering and somewhat harsh management style.

So make no mistake: Mr Eisner is not about to leave quietly.

After all, this is the man who, during the 1970s and until he joined Disney, built Paramount into a leading studio, thereby catching the eye of Roy Disney who hired him.

This is also the man who during the next 15 years built Disney into a formidable media power house, boosting its profits six fold and sending its share price soaring almost 6,000%.

So there is every reason to expect that Mr Eisner is about to enter the barricades for a very bitter battle that will do little to enhance Disney's squeaky clean corporate image.


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