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Exec exodus continues at Disney

The president of ESPN Internet Ventures resigns, marking another departure from the team assembled under Buena Vista, Disney's Net properties division.

Another high-level executive is splitting from the ranks at a Disney Internet site.

Tom Phillips, president of ESPN Internet Ventures, has resigned from his post, an ESPN spokesman confirmed today. His resignation was announced to the company yesterday in a short internal memo sent by former Starwave chief executive Mike Slade, who now serves as president of ESPN Interactive Ventures' parent company, Buena Vista Interactive Group, a division of the Walt Disney Company.

"Jake asked me to forward this to all of you," Slade wrote in an email, referring to Buena Vista chairman Jake Winebaum.

The memo added that Geoff Reiss, currently senior vice president of production and programming for ESPN, will assume Phillips's responsibilities as acting general manager.

The announcement marks another high-level departure this summer from the executive team assembled under Buena Vista, Disney's Internet properties division run by Winebaum. Analysts speculate that more departures could follow as Disney merges its own management team with those of Infoseek and Starwave to create a sizable Net presence.

The following month, Richard Wolpert, former president of Disney Online, also abruptly resigned, to form a new Internet venture under Yucaipa Companies chairman Ron Burkle. In addition, just a few weeks ago Susan Wyland, vice president of Family.com, also left Disney.

The mass exodus of executive talent is a byproduct of the numerous, and often confusing, mergers and acquisitions that Disney has pursued in its push to become a major Internet property. As a result, the entertainment giant has had to reshuffle a complex management hierarchy into a single organization run by Winebaum.

Starwave's integration into Infoseek, which resulted from Disney's 43 percent stake in the portal, has been rumored to have caused a culture clash between the two camps. Starwave and Infoseek now are developing a new portal, possibly called "go.com."

Because of this clash, some analysts and observers are expecting the defection trend to continue in coming months, possibly with more top-level executives.

"These are three separate corporate cultures that are trying to mix," said an analyst who requested anonymity. "That kind of scenario can never go without its resignations and oustings."

Phillips was an original member of Starwave's core management team, along with Slade and Starwave president and chief technology officer Patrick Naughton. Since June, when Disney purchased a stake in Web portal Infoseek, which then took control of Starwave, Phillips has reported to Winebaum, ESPN senior management, and Infoseek chief executive Harry Motro.

ESPN Internet Ventures would not comment on Phillips's resignation, but maintained that it was his decision.