LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co named Thomas Staggs, the head of its theme parks and resorts unit, as chief operating officer of the company on Thursday, putting him in the lead to succeed Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger in 2018.
Staggs will assume the role of COO immediately while he continues to run the parks business until a successor is named, Disney said in a statement.
Disney shares rose 1.2 percent to $102.52 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The 63-year-old Iger, who has led Disney to record profits, recently extended his contract for a second time through June 2018. Staggs and Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo have been considered the top candidates to replace Iger, Wall Street analysts said.
Disney operates television networks including ABC and ESPN, theme parks on three continents, a movie studio and gaming and consumer products divisions. The company blew past Wall Street estimates when it released quarterly results on Tuesday, driving its stock to record highs.
Staggs, 54, is a 25-year veteran of Disney and previously served as CFO. He became head of the parks division in 2010, when Iger switched the jobs of Rasulo and Staggs so each could broaden experience.
Elevating Staggs puts him at the top of the list of candidates to lead Disney when Iger leaves, Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan said.
"I think it's likely he's Iger's successor," Harrigan said. "They are trying to give him even more familiarity with all the businesses."
No decision has been made about who will be the next CEO, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who noted Iger has more than three years left on his contract. Disney's senior management will report jointly to Iger and Staggs with a few exceptions, including the CFO.
Staggs has won accolades for growing the parks business, expanding Disney's California Adventure and overseeing a Shanghai theme park that will open next year. He also has introduced technology, such as wireless wristbands to help people plan visits, enter the park quickly and pay for products.
Disney did not comment on Rasulo's future. He has been working without a contract since the end of January.
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe)