January 25, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Perspective: How long before Jobs is Disney's new boss?See all Perspectives
Underperforming household consumer company announces a blockbuster acquisition that catapults Steve Jobs into an insider. The welcoming current CEO says he looks forward to a productive working relationship. After less than a year of corporate intrigue, the old CEO is out the door and guess who now runs the show?In December 1996, Apple Computer bought Next Computer, a foundering company that Jobs formed after leaving Apple in 1988. The deal was the crowning career mistake of Gil Amelio, Apple's chief executive at the time, who was desperate to reverse a famously feckless tenure.
CNET News.com reporters talk about the implications of the Disney-Pixar deal.
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Even in the pre-iPod era, Jobs was already a bona fide media star. Everybody except Amelio knew that Jobs would end up back on top, and it only took a half year before the Apple co-founder became CEO. The prodigal son had returned home for good.
Disney CEO Bob Iger is a decidedly different type of corporate animal, and his company is hardly the serial screwup that Apple was in the prolonged twilight of the Sculley-Spindler-Amelio era.
In his public comments today, Jobs dismissed suggestions that Disney's Pixar buy was akin to letting the fox into the henhouse. He mugged for the cameras, saying the deal is only about Pixar buying into Iger's vision of where he wants to take Disney, along with the man's understanding of animation.
Is that the full story line? If so, central casting should be calling for a rewrite.
To be sure, Jobs does have his hands full keeping Apple on track. And Iger does legitimately want to transform Disney. Last year Disney became the first big content company to push content through Apple's iPod. Now Iger will be seeking out ways to distribute Disney-Pixar content through the iPod and any other digital devices coming up from Apple.
But pardon my sarong if I don't believe everything Jobs says. He is an executive of rare accomplishment. He also is a practiced corporate finagler with large ambitions.
As long as Disney's earnings-per-share continue to climb, there's no pressing reason for Jobs to enter the picture. But we're talking about a legendary entrepreneur with a unique understanding of both the computer and entertainment industries.
If Disney falters, will Jobs be able to resist the temptation to meddle? If Iger fails to deliver, would Disney's board be able to ignore the presence of a superstar CEO waiting in the wings (not to mention one who will become Disney's largest shareholder)?
In recent years, the company's mediocre performance has tested the patience of Disney shareholders. In 2004, a full-blown revolt led by Roy Disney, nephew of founder Walt Disney, and fellow board member Stanley Gold, ultimately led to the ouster of Michael Eisner as CEO. Now that investor expectations have again been raised, disappointments will go down extra hard.
Charles Cooper is CNET News.com's executive editor of commentary.
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