DEFINITION of Michael Eisner

In many ways, the story of Michael Eisner is a story of the corporate entertainment world, with many household names playing their own part. People like Barry Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg are like brand names for the entertainment industry, and Eisner took his place among them at stalwart companies like Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions.

BREAKING DOWN Michael Eisner

Michael Eisner was born to an affluent family in New York City and raised in Manhattan. He attended a private day school until high school when he was sent to a boarding prep school and ultimately graduated from Denison University in Ohio with a Bachelor’s degree in English in 1964. Prior to graduation, he took his first job in media as a page for NBC.

The Discovery of 'Michael Eisner'

Eisner was “discovered” by Barry Diller when Diller hired him onto ABC as Assistant to the National Programming Director. Over time, Eisner rose through the ranks to become a senior VP in charge of programming and development at ABC. In 1976, his old friend Barry Diller worked in his favor again. By this time Diller was the chairman of Paramount Pictures, and he recruited Eisner from ABC to Paramount to become President and CEO of the movie studio division. During his time at Paramount, Eisner would have a hand in producing a number of classic films and television shows that would help define the 1970s and early 1980s such as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Flashdance, as well as shows like Happy Days and Cheers.

Diller was Eisner’s mentor and Eisner was his protégé, but when Diller left Paramount, Eisner was passed over for the job as chairman of the company and he began looking into other options by pitching his expertise to become the CEO of Walt Disney Productions. It was a position both iconic in the industry and one of great longevity for Eisner, who ultimately held the CEO position from 1984 – 2005.

'Michael Eisner' and his relationship with Jeffrey Katzenberg

One of Eisner’s earliest moves to Disney was to bring in Jeffrey Katzenberg as the chairman of Disney. Under leadership from the pair, Disney turned around as a struggling media giant with a lot of recognition capital for its flagship characters into a powerhouse the would dominate the film industry with fare enjoyed by children and adults as well. This turnaround was dominated following the acquisition of Miramax Pictures, and later, ABC and ESPN. These movements were predicated on two smash hits for Disney under Eisner with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “The Little Mermaid.”

While Eisner would produce success for Disney, all was not fluffy bunnies and seafaring cartoons in the boardroom. In 1993, Katzenberg lobbied to become the president of the company and thereby second in command to Eisner, and this led to tensions between the two and Katzenberg’s firing in 1994. It was later reported by Eisner that Roy O. Disney, the nephew of Walt, prevented him from elevating Katzenberg as President. Disney would later resign from his position as vice-chairman of the board and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation but would lead a proxy war rebellion in rallying the stockholders to keep Eisner from getting re-elected as Chairman.

At the time, Disney felt there was too much micromanagement coming from on high, but he later used his shares in the company along with his name recognition among Disney company shareholders to mount a proxy war against Eisner, who was removed from the chairman position as a result of these actions in 2004, but kept Eisner on as CEO of the company for another year.

In retirement, Eisner briefly had a talk show of his own entitled Conversations with Michael Eisner, but the show was canceled in 2009. He was also involved in a number of takeovers within the industry, most notably that of the Topps trading card company