Disney Studios Head Rich Ross Steps Down

Veteran exec departs in wake of heavy ‘John Carter’ losses

Reeling from the John Carter debacle, Walt Disney Studios and Rich Ross on Friday abruptly severed ties with one another.

A 15-year Disney veteran, Ross had served as the head of the studio unit since October 2009. Before that, Ross enjoyed a remarkable run as president of Disney Channels Worldwide, where he oversaw the development of franchises like the Hannah Montana series and the High School Musical films.

His immediate successor at Disney Channels Worldwide, Carolina Lightcap, was replaced in September 2011 by president of entertainment and chief creative officer Gary Marsh.

In a note to staffers, Ross said he ne longer believes that the chairman role “is the right professional fit” for him, adding, “for that reason, I have made the very difficult decision to step down.”

Ross’ departure is effective immediately. 

“I’ve always said our success is created and driven by our people—whom I consider to be the absolute best in the business,” Ross wrote. “But, 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 concluded his message by noting that he believes that he is leaving the studio “in good hands.”

In a brief message released shortly after the Ross memo, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger offered the usual blandishments, saying that he appreciated Ross’ “countless contributions throughout his entire career at Disney.” Iger added that he expects Ross to find “tremendous success in whatever he chooses to do next.”

Disney has not identified a successor, although this time around, the company almost certainly will go after an established studio head.

The shake-up comes on the heels of a particularly rough patch for the studio. The $350 million sci-fi/adventure film John Carter took one of the biggest write-offs in movie history, losing some $200 million in Mouse money.

In March, the company alerted investors that the John Carter crisis would lead to “an operating loss of between $80 million and $120 million in the second quarter.”

Another recent Disney Studios flop was last year’s Mars Needs Moms, which lost approximately $110 million.