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Longtime Director Quits Disney Board

Gary Wilson, a former finance chief at the media giant, has been a director for 21 years.

July 29, 2006|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Gary Wilson, Walt Disney Co.'s longest-serving director and one of its most influential, is leaving the board as part of an effort to bring fresh blood to it, the company disclosed Friday.

The board Thursday accepted Wilson's resignation, effective Monday, Disney said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Disney's former chief financial officer, Wilson now serves as chairman of Northwest Airlines Corp. He was on Disney's board 21 years.

The Burbank-based media company cited a "length of service policy" enacted by directors in 2002. Those rules set a term limit requiring directors to submit their resignations after 12 years, and every three years thereafter. The board can reject a resignation, and already did so once with Wilson. Under that policy, he was to offer his resignation again by Monday.

Wilson's departure marks another step in a wholesale revamping of Disney's board, which under former Chief Executive Michael Eisner was criticized by shareholders for its lack of independence.

"You are seeing a slow but steady replenishment of that board," said Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware. "This is another positive move in that direction."

Last month, former Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive John E. Pepper Jr. was named to succeed former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell as Disney's chairman, effective Jan. 1.

Wilson, 66, had been considered a candidate for the chairman's job, but he didn't campaign for it, and his long tenure as a board member dimmed his chances. He also had told people that he didn't want the job.

Also working against Wilson was his longtime association with Eisner, who hired him away from Marriott Corp. to serve as the company's chief financial officer from 1985 to 1989. Wilson was a key player in Disney's turnaround then. After leaving his executive position, he remained a confidant of Eisner.

Despite his ties to Eisner, Wilson was viewed by many investors as an independent voice.

"He was looked at by the investor community as being one of the more maverick members of the board," said Patrick McGurn, executive vice president of Institutional Shareholder Services.

Wilson and a Disney spokesman declined to comment.

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Times staff writer Joseph Menn contributed to this report.

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