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Anne Sweeney to step down as Disney chief

Anne Sweeney arrives at the 85th Academy Awards

Anne Sweeney arrives at the 85th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2013. Credit: MCT

Anne Sweeney, the Disney president who has long been graced (or burdened) with the label of "Hollywood's  Most Powerful Woman," is stepping down from the company early next year, Disney announced.  

"Mild shock" are the words that should greet this story - Sweeney, a well-regarded chief executive, was not expected to get Bob Iger's job when he steps aside next March (Iger is Disney chairman). And because of that, it was probably unlikely she would remain anyway. Instead, she said she will now "learn" to become a director, her passion (she said). That's the "shock" here - top executives don't usually announce they are leaving to become a director, but instead deploy that well-rubbed phrase, "leaving for new opportunities .?.?."  

The statements:

“The past 18 years at Disney have been the highlight of my executive career. I’ve been a part of an amazing evolution in our business and our industry, and have achieved far more than I ever thought possible. But as wonderful as the experience has been, there has always been a nagging voice in the back of my head pushing me to step out of the comfort zone of the executive ranks and more directly into the creative arena that enticed me to TV in the first place. I finally listened to that voice and thought, ‘if not now, when?’ I know my decision to step back from all of this to learn the art of Directing may seem surprising, but to me it’s a long realized dream. I am so thankful to Bob Iger for his leadership, guidance and his friendship over the years, and am grateful not only for his offer to remain with the Company for many years to come, but his understanding and support of my decision to make this change. I’m excited to spend the remainder of this year positioning the TV Group for even greater success.”

Iger:  “Since joining Disney, Anne been a very successful executive in our senior ranks. Over the years she grew our Disney Channel business into a global powerhouse and the main brand driver of our Company around the world; built ABC Family into a top cable network here in the U.S.; made ABC a strong, successful content creation engine; and has been a great partner in leading our industry into the digital age. Anne’s collaborative spirit, genuine curiosity and unwavering support have been a constant, but it is her friendship that I most value. I applaud Anne for knowing what she wants out of life and for having the courage to follow her dream. We’re thrilled she’ll be with us through the end of the year, and look forward to having her direct one of our shows in the future.”

Sweeney -- who has area ties (she's an upstater who went to the College of New Rochelle and built her career in New York City before heading west) -- has been credited with doing a good job at Disney's TV properties, but the most visible of those, ABC, continues to struggle in prime time.

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