Thomas "Tom" Staggs, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Photograph by Daniel Acker — Bloomberg/Getty Images
By Lucinda Shen
April 5, 2016

Following news that heir apparent to the (dis) Disney empire, Tom Staggs, was stepping down as Chief Operating Officer, shares of the entertainment conglomerate shed 2% in mid-day trading Tuesday as investors tried to make sense of the sudden departure and the future of the company.

After all, Staggs had been with the company for over two decades: In his time as Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts from to early 2015, he had doubled theme park operating profit. He was the golden boy seemingly groomed for the position of CEO, as the current CEO Bob Iger, made plans to leave June 2018 at earliest.

Now, as the COO plans to leave May 6, there seems to be a Staggs shaped hole in the management.

But that’s not quite so, according to a Tuesday Nomura note, that reported the shakeup is likely to have very little impact on Disney’s ongoing projects because the company is lined with at least some safety nets.

That Shanghai park is nearly complete, while the man who succeeded Staggs as Chairman of Disney’s parks and resorts has not fallen short. Operating income has grown by 15% since Bob Chapek took over in early 2015. Meanwhile, Staggs’ work as COO, trying to navigate a broadcast market with in uptrend in cord-cutting, did not take Disney in a new direction—so TV operations are “unlikely to be disrupted by his departure.”

Secondly, the two-and-a-quarter years before Iger plans to leave is “ample time” for Disney executives to select a new candidate, a team of Nomura analysts led by Anthony DiClemente wrote. Though the firm “believes Mr. Staggs’ departure potentially increases the likelihood that Mr. Iger extends his tenure as CEO.” After all, Iger has a track record of… well, not leaving.

 

Fellow investment banking firm Goldman Sachs reiterated a neutral rating on the stock, writing that the management shakeup does create a degree of uncertainty and risk to the stock. It also suggests that “the board may be indicating that the next Disney CEO will be an external hire, something that has not happened since 1984 with Michael Eisner.”

Though other analysts say the succession issue won’t be so easy to solve, especially since Disney lost other CEO-hopefuls such as former CFO Jay Rasulo and former co-chair of Disney Media, Anne Sweeney.

“These are high-level skills, dealing with complex issues in a $160-billion market cap company,” said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham and Company to the Los Angeles Times. “It is a short list of people who can do that job.”

Needham maintained a hold rating on the stock, while Nomura reiterated its buy rating.

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