Disney movie studio chairman Rich Ross resigns

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Rich Ross

Rich Ross

Blame it all on an embar­rass­ment of Rich’s.

After less than three years in the job, Rich Ross has quit as chair­man of the Walt Dis­ney Company’s movie studio.

Under his watch, the Mouse House released this spring’s partly ani­mated John Carter, one of Hollywood’s biggest bombs in recent years. The big-budget science-fiction saga had been years in the devel­op­ment, with costs zoom­ing to over $250 million.

In March, Dis­ney announced that it antic­i­pated about $200 mil­lion in losses for John Carter, caus­ing the stu­dio to have $80 mil­lion to $120 mil­lion in oper­at­ing losses over­all for the movie division.

Last year, another Mars-set movie, the ani­mated Mars Needs Moms, lost $70 million.

Dis­ney will not name a new stu­dio head imme­di­ately, said a source famil­iar with the circumstances.

The best peo­ple need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are pas­sion­ate about, doing work that lever­ages the full range of their abil­i­ties,” Ross — named as chair­man in Octo­ber 2009 — told his staff in an e-mailed memo Fri­day. “I no longer believe the Chair­man role is the right pro­fes­sional fit for me.”

For more than a decade, Rich Ross’ cre­ative instincts, busi­ness acu­men and per­sonal integrity have dri­ven results in key busi­nesses for Dis­ney,” Bob Iger, CEO of the enter­tain­ment giant, said in a state­ment. “I appre­ci­ate his count­less con­tri­bu­tions through­out his entire career at Dis­ney and expect he will have tremen­dous suc­cess in what­ever he chooses to do next.”

Ross, 50, “was a super­star at the Dis­ney Chan­nel, and the results at the stu­dio have not been excep­tional,” said Ever­core Part­ners ana­lyst Alan Gould. Nonethe­less, he expressed sur­prise that Ross was leav­ing. Gould noted his suc­cess when pres­i­dent of the Dis­ney Chan­nel, where he cre­ated such block­buster fran­chises as High School Musi­cal and Han­nah Mon­tana.

One ana­lyst blamed his exit on his inabil­ity to fore­stall major writedowns.

At some level, he takes respon­si­bil­ity for not fix­ing them or shut­ting them down,” said Need­ham & Co. equity ana­lyst Laura Mar­tin. “They need to lower the risk of entry and build fran­chise films from that base. Not go all-in, hop­ing it works out.”

Ross joined Dis­ney in 1996 as Dis­ney Channel’s senior vice-president for pro­gram­ming and pro­duc­tion. He was pro­moted to posi­tions of increas­ing respon­si­bil­ity before being named Dis­ney Chan­nel pres­i­dent in April 2004. Due to his suc­cess at the Dis­ney Chan­nel, Iger chose him to suc­ceed long­time chair­man Dick Cook, whom Iger forced out, as head of the Dis­ney Company’s film division.

Prior to his tenure at Dis­ney, Ross was a mem­ber of the exec­u­tive team that launched FX Net­works. Ross also held sev­eral senior posi­tions from 1986 to 1993 at Nick­elodeon, where he over­saw tal­ent book­ing, cast­ing and pro­gram devel­op­ment, and was involved in the launch of the channel’s first suc­cess­ful syn­di­cated show and its first inter­na­tional network.

Ross is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors for Hol­ly­wood Radio Tele­vi­sion Soci­ety and Cable in the Class­room — an orga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents the cable telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion industry’s com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion. A native of New York and a 1983 grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia with a Bach­e­lor of Arts degree in Inter­na­tional and Eng­lish, Ross received his J.D. degree from New York’s Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity in 1986.

Ana­lyst Gould expects that investors will be affected lit­tle by Ross quit­ting, as Disney’s much-larger theme-park and cable net­work busi­nesses are much big­ger influ­ences on the company’s finan­cial results.

Dis­ney shares rose 34 cents (0.8%) to $42.42 in Fri­day after­noon trad­ing on the New York Stock Exchange.

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