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With an initial public stock offering expected by the end of the year, the historic film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's executive ranks were shaken Wednesday by the surprise resignation of co-chief executive Roger Birnbaum.
The departure leaves Birnbaum's longtime partner Gary Barber as sole CEO of the Beverly Hills company, home of the upcoming James Bond film "Skyfall" and "Lord of the Rings" prequel "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Birnbaum and Barber have been partners since 1998, when they co-founded the film finance and production company Spyglass Entertainment. In 2010, they were named CEOs of MGM after it emerged from bankruptcy.
During their 14-year partnership, Birnbaum has always overseen creative processes, which was fitting given his background in production at 20th Century Fox, United Artists and Walt Disney Studios.
Barber, a former accountant, has overseen the business side of their companies. That makes him a more natural CEO for a public company. Barber has been the lead speaker on conference calls with MGM's private shareholders over the last two years.
Birnbaum decided to relinquish his CEO post because he was no longer a good fit with the company poised to go public, according to two people close to the company who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
He will be a producer and remain close to the company with an exclusive deal.
Birnbaum declined to comment on the reasons for his departure beyond a statement issued by the studio.
"I am very proud of where MGM is today," Birnbaum said in the statement. "I have been in the film business a long time, and my greatest passion has always been producing. Now is the time for me to return to what I love to do the most."
All the projects Birnbaum initially plans to produce are remakes, which take up a large chunk of MGM's slate. They include "RoboCop," currently in production, along with planned updates of "Death Wish," "WarGames" and "The Magnificent Seven." He will continue to work out of MGM's corporate offices.
With Birnbaum's departure, MGM's most senior executive focused on film production and development will be its motion picture group president, Jonathan Glickman.
Since Barber and Birnbaum took charge of the 88-year-old studio, they have signed a major co-financing and distribution deal with Sony Pictures that brought the two companies together on "Skyfall" and saw MGM invest in Sony's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "21 Jump Street" and "Hope Springs."
They also solidified a partnership with Warner Bros. that put the long-in-development "Hobbit" movies into production.
MGM has a remake of the horror film "Carrie" set for release by Sony next March and is co-financing Paramount Pictures' upcoming "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."
Barber and Birnbaum have also taken steps to prepare the company for an IPO, including selling most of its international television channels and buying out a 25% stake owned by billionaire investor Carl Icahn.