Michael Eisner began his career as a page at NBC and found early success as a programming whiz with a sharp eye for popular culture, first at ABC, where he developed the sitcoms “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley,” and later as chairman of Paramount Pictures, where he and Barry Diller oversaw a string of hits that included “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “48 hours” and “Saturday Night Fever.”
In 1984, Eisner was recruited to head Disney when the company faced a hostile takeover by corporate raiders. He transformed Disney from an ailing studio with a few theme parks to a $30-billion entertainment juggernaut with 11 parks, television networks, Broadway shows and cruise ships.
But his legacy was tarnished by a series of high-level clashes with executives, including film chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left the company to help launch DreamWorks; and former Disney President Michael Ovitz, the former head of Creative Artists Agency, who was fired in 1996 after 15 months on the job.
Eisner also had a bitter falling out with his long-time allies Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, who led a shareholder rebellion against him after the company’s share price and earnings tumbled. The board stripped him of his chairman’s title in March 2005, when shareholders delivered a 45% no-confidence vote on Eisner.
He resigned as CEO in 2005, turning over the reins to his handpicked successor Bob Iger.