MINNEAPOLIS – The search isn't over for a new Walt Disney Co. (DIS) chief executive to replace Michael Eisner (search), chairman George Mitchell pledged on Friday. But whenever Mitchell wasn't talking, there were just two people on the stage at Disney's annual meeting — Eisner, and the apparent front-runner to replace him, president Robert Iger.
Mitchell said the search should be finished by June and will include interviews with outside candidates.
"We are carefully considering an internal as well as external candidates, including interviews with each candidate," Mitchell said. "The board will make its decision when the process is completed, not before or during it."
Several large shareholders, including dissident ex-board members Roy E. Disney (search) and Stanley Gold, have expressed concern that the succession process would unfairly favor Iger. Disney was at the meeting — he even autographed proxies for some shareholders — but didn't ask questions during the meeting or speak with reporters.
Pressed by a shareholder, Mitchell would not say if the board had already interviewed outside candidates.
"We take this seriously, regard it as our most important task and will continue to devote our full effort and focus on the succession process," Mitchell said.
The meeting was quiet compared to last year's contentious gathering in Philadelphia, where shareholders delivered a stinging rebuke to Eisner and several other board members.
This year, Eisner received 92 percent of votes cast for his re-election to the board, compared to the unprecedented 45 percent of votes withheld from him last year.
Mitchell received 93 percent of the votes cast for his re-election. This will be his last year on the board because Mitchell will reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 this year.
Shareholders also passed a resolution discouraging "greenmail," above-market stock repurchases to silence critics, with 56 percent of the vote.
Disney shares fell a penny to close at $29.34 on the New York Stock Exchange (search), having rebounded from around $21 in August.