Wadsworth Leaving Disney Interactive; Playdom’s Pleasants Successor?

Another late-night departure announcement from a top Disney (NYSE: DIS) exec. The last one was the Labor Day memo from David Westin about leaving ABC News. This time it’s Steve Wadsworth, longtime head of Disney’s internet operations, sending word that “for many reasons now is the right time for me to move on” and to pursue other opportunities. (The full memo follows.) Disney says his successor will be announced shortly; Wadsworth will stay on as president of the Disney Interactive Media Group through the transition.

Wadsworth has run Disney’s core internet operations since 1999, presiding over more than $1 billion in gaming and virtual world acquisitions and everything from the remake of Disney.com to the failed Disney MVNO. The current unit was created two years ago by the merger of the Walt Disney Internet Group with video gaming unit Disney Interactive Studios putting online, gaming and mobile in one place. But the group doesn’t include everything Disney does digitally.

If CEO Bob Iger follows his recent pattern of executive musical chairs, someone else from Disney will move into the slot. The NYT suggests one top internal candidate is John Pleasants, the CEO of recent social gaming acquisition Playdom who became a Disney EVP post-acquisition. Pleasants, with his background at EA prior to Playdomn, may be one likely candidate but he’s not the only possibility if Iger wants to promote from within a group that includes entrepreneurs and Disney execs. The EVP level includes Lane Merrifield, Disney Online Studios and co-founder and GM of Club Penguin; Disney vets Larry Shapiro, EVP of business development and operations, and Paul Yanover, Disney Online. Bart Decrem and Andrew Lacey, who came along with the summer acquisition of Tapulous, have exec gigs; Decrem is SVP and GM of Disney Mobile, while Lacy is SVP and head of studios.

But Iger also has shown a willingness to move execs from group to group — Rich Ross from Disney to head the studio, for instance — and going outside completely isn’t out of the realm if he really wants to shake things up.

Wadsworth’s memo to staff:

It is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision and plan to resign as the President of Disney Interactive Media Group and to leave the Walt Disney Company. I have, of course, been discussing this decision with Bob Iger, who has been extremely supportive of me and our business activity from the beginning, and he has been very gracious and supportive of me in this decision as well.

I have been thinking about this for quite some time, and while it is difficult to leave a great company, an exciting business and a wonderful group of people, my desire and excitement to pursue other opportunities is too great to ignore. There are a number of career adventures and new endeavors that I have been interested in exploring, but my commitment and focus have been here at Disney. While there is never a good time to leave a great role at a great company, for many reasons now is the right time for me to move on.

I am extremely proud of the huge progress we have made at Disney Interactive Media Group, and I am confident that the business is well positioned for continued significant growth. Our recent re-organization and acquisitions have put in place all of the elements needed to build a large, high growth, profitable business across multiple interactive media categories. There remains much good work to be done, and there is great opportunity ahead, and I can leave with the knowledge that the business and the organization are on a great path.

Although I am announcing this now, I have committed to stay on in my role for as long as necessary for Bob to identify a successor and for a smooth transition. Until then, I will be 100% focused on working with all of you to drive the continued momentum and growth of our business.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at Disney for more than 17 years. I have many people to thank for making my experience here fantastic. I thank Bob Iger for his leadership, guidance and friendship. I thank my colleagues across the company for their support and partnership. And I thank all of you at Disney Interactive Media Group for being part of an exciting and inspiring team.

– Steve

The statements from Disney:

Steve Wadsworth, president Disney Interactive Media Group, today announced his resignation. In a statement, Wadsworth said