Get ready folks: you’ve got less than 4 years to work your way to top of the Disney corporate ladder. The Walt Disney Company just made the somewhat surprise announcement that Bob Iger will see his tenure as chairman and chief executive officer extended until 31st March 2015 when he will step down as CEO, giving him a neat 10 years in charge. This will leave the door open for a new leader, a rare moment indeed for Disney. Iger will continue to serve as executive chairman for 15 months as part of the succession plan, which you can read the full details of in the ABC News article here.

Unlike Michael Eisner, the previous CEO from 1984 to 2005 who was unceremoniously ousted from the position after a shareholder revolt led by the late Roy E. Disney, Disney has set Bob Iger’s departure date far in advance, while he still well admired by shareholders, Cast Members and fans. In the past six years, he has led Disney back toward quality entertainment after the deluge of so-called direct-to-video “cheapquels” of earlier in the past decade; overseeing massive expansions of Hong Kong Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom in Florida and of course the billion-dollar Disney California Adventure rebirth. Shanghai Disney Resort, which broke ground earlier this year, will open in 2016.

Beyond the parks and just a year into his leadership Iger led the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar, after Michael Eisner very nearly drove the visionary studio away from the company; bringing John Lasseter to the forefront of Disney’s creative vision and launching a rebirth of traditional animation at the studio. This would also make the now sadly passed Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs the largest individual Disney shareholder and member of the board, providing an important relationship with Apple at a pivotal moment as it revolutionised the entertainment and technology industries.

While Iger has so far been spotted during visits to Disneyland Paris several times, the resort has failed to see many revolutions during his time. The last expansion wave of new attractions between 2006 and 2008 was already signed and sealed a few months before he became CEO, and current projects such as the Ratatouille dark ride, Disney Village and hotel expansions continue to languish on the drawing board. A full-scale project to “fix” Walt Disney Studios Park with a huge DCA-style investment package has been rumoured for later this decade, but so far not forthcoming. The park is perhaps the final piece of Eisner’s later legacy that still requires fixing to bring it up to the Disney name. Could Iger help it along as a final hurrah before 2015? And who do you think will be his likely successor?

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