Disney's Eisner Stripped of Chairmanship

03/04/2004 AT 02:45 PM EST

Embattled Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner on Wednesday was stripped of his role as chairman of the media giant, but was allowed to retain his role as chief executive even after 43 percent of shareholders voted against him in an unprecedented protest.

After a stormy meeting of shareholders in Philadelphia, Disney's board of directors announced that it had elected former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as the company's chairman and that Eisner, who turns 62 on Sunday, has the unanimous support of the board as the company's top executive.

Disney's board said that while it recognized that some shareholders were calling for Eisner's total ouster, it was confident that the entertainment conglomerate's financial results would validate its support of management and current strategy, reports Reuters.

"While there appear to have been a number of different forces at work in the shareholder vote, a significant message conveyed in the vote was in the area of governance," Disney's board said in a statement. "In particular, there was substantial focus on whether the chair and CEO functions at the company should be split."

Eisner has been criticized over Disney's longer-term stock performance, low ratings at the company's struggling ABC network and what detractors see as his mishandling of a now-scuttled movie distribution deal with Pixar Animation Studios Inc. Walt Disney's nephew, Roy Disney, has also lambasted Eisner for allowing the quality of the Disney name to slip and ruining the Disney theme parks by stressing commercialism over imagination.

On Wednesday night's "Nightline" (on the Disney-owned ABC network), Eisner said, "I do not belittle a large withhold vote." By having his two jobs split, he admitted, "We heard our shareholders ... so we went ahead and did it. There are obviously certain people that are not happy with me, personally, I guess."

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