Andy Mooney, the executive credited with revitalizing Walt Disney Co.'s licensing business, unexpectedly resigned as chairman of its consumer products division, saying that he plans to seek "a leadership role with another organization."
Mooney, who joined Disney 12 years ago, launched new merchandise and business lines, including the Disney Princesses and Disney Fairies, and opened English-language schools in China featuring Disney characters.
But he chafed under a company policy that prohibited him from serving on corporate boards and disdained the inside politics that largely left him out of Chief Executive Robert A. Iger's inner circle, said one person familiar with his situation who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
People who have worked with Mooney, but asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said his hard-charging style was out of sync in a corporation that values collegiality.
Mooney had tense relationships with executives from Pixar Animation Studios and Marvel Entertainment, two of Disney's key entertainment brands, these people said. However, it is unclear whether this was a factor in his departure.
Nonetheless, Mooney is well regarded in the retail community and on Wall Street, where analysts praise his brand savvy and his group's active role in working with licensees to shape the toys, clothing and other products based on Disney's characters.
"Look at some of the brands that he has built from nearly nothing in the doll category, like Disney Princesses," said Sean McGowan, toy industry analyst with Needham & Co. "While Bratz and Barbie have been duking it out in the courtroom, Disney Princesses have been dominating the toy aisle."
The Disney Princesses were an early triumph for Mooney, who came up with the idea of bringing together characters that previously existed at the center of their own separate stories.
The prospect of marketing Snow White, Cinderella and other animated heroines as a single brand met with opposition from longtime executives, including the late Roy Disney. But the merchandise line proved a major hit with consumers, who annually purchased about $4 billion worth of toys, clothes, bedding and other merchandise.
Mooney had similar success with Disney Fairies, which put Tinker Bell — a character from Disney's 1953 film "Peter Pan" — at the center of a new set of stories explored in books, DVDs and an online virtual world, as well as a new line of merchandise.
His group also built lucrative merchandise businesses around the "Toy Story" and "Cars" films from Disney's Pixar Animation Studios, but had less success with the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.
Disney took back its North American Disney Stores from the Children's Place in 2008 and has undertaken an ambitious overhaul to enhance the stores' appeal with shoppers.
Mooney also led an initiative to develop products for adults, including a Disney Couture fashion line, princess-inspired bridal gowns and Walt Disney Signature furniture.
"He laid out so many good plans, it's an easy act to follow — but a tough act to top," analyst McGowan said.
Mooney announced his departure to the staff in an email Tuesday, saying, "It's never easy to leave a place you love, but today I informed Bob Iger that I've made the difficult decision to resign as chairman of Disney Consumer Products."
The 56-year-old executive is expected to remain in his position through the end of the month. His successor has not been named.
Iger praised Mooney's contributions to the company.
"Not only has he consistently delivered business results year after year, but his focus on the Disney brand and the creation of new franchises like Disney Princess will leave a legacy for decades," Iger said.
Martin Brochstein, senior vice president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Assn., expressed surprise at Mooney's impending departure.
"Personally, I consider him to be one of the smartest executives ever to hit this business," Brochstein said.