Disney CEO Bob Iger may have to delay his retirement for the fourth time

Bob IgerGetty/Michael TullbergDisney CEO Bob Iger.

Analysts predict Disney’s CEO Bob Iger may have to extend his contract beyond 2018 — when he had planned to retire — following the departure of his apparent heir, chief operating officer Thomas Staggs.

Staggs was appointed as COO last February and was the favourite to take over from Iger. But Disney announced on Monday he will leave the position on May 6.

Writing in a research note, DiClemente said while the near-term impact of Stagg’s departure is “very little,” over the longer term it could see the company needing to persuade 65-year-old Iger to stay on past 2018.

“To borrow a phrase, the best successor to Bob Iger may very well be Bob Iger,” DiClemente wrote.

Cown and Company analyst Doug Creutz also suggested Iger could potentially delay his exit, The New York Times reported.

The idea is not too far-fetched.

In 2014, Disney delayed Iger’s exit for the third time in four years. He had originally planned to step down in April 2015, but extended his contract in order to oversee Disney’s theme park expansion into China and to integrate Lucasfilm into the business.

However, at that time he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal: “This time I really mean it,” referring to his exit date.

If Iger doesn’t plan to stay on beyond 2018, Disney still has plenty of time to search for a replacement — potentially a candidate with more experience on the media and technology side than Staggs, who was the former chairman of Disney’s theme park business.

While Disney has usually preferred to promote key executives from within, the board may now start looking outside for a successor to Iger. Disney board member and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is one of the names that keeps coming up in Hollywood speculation about the new CEO, according to The New York Times, which first reported Staggs’ departure on Monday.

Walt Disney Company’s stock was down 1.72% to $98.65 in after-hours trading on Tuesday morning.

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