Business & Finance

Michael Eisner, who had planned to step down as chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Co. next year, instead will hand over the reins Oct. 1 to Robert Iger, the board of directors said Sunday. Iger, Disney's president and chief operating officer, will "co-lead" the company during a transition period, the announcement said. Eisner has headed the entertainment industry giant since 1984. But in recent years he has been the target of heavy criticism by disgruntled shareholders, especially ex-director, Roy Disney, a nephew of the famous founder. (Story, page 3.)

Phillip Morris International, a unit of the US tobacco giant, announced its entry into Indonesia's lucrative cigarette market with a $5.2 billion purchase of 40 percent of PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna. The latter is the third-largest cigarette producer in a nation where 70 percent of males smoke and an increasing number of women are taking up the habit.

Marriott International, the hotel chain, and the hospitality group Whitbread PLC announced a joint venture aimed at selling 52 of the former's properties in Britain within two years for a hoped-for $1.9 billion. The deal calls for Whitbread, which operates the Marriott hotels - six of them in London and nine others classified as golf resorts - to transfer them and their staffs to the joint venture until all are sold.

IBM agreed to pay $1.1 billion in cash for Ascential Software Corp. of Westboro, Mass., the companies announced. Ascential, which provides data-integration software to business clients, will become a unit of IBM's information management division. The companies have 550 mutual international customers.

Except in name, the struggling airline Swiss would disappear under a plan being prepared for presentation to its shareholders by German rival Lufthansa. The companies said in an e-mail Sunday that they'd agreed on a business model under which Lufthansa would absorb Swiss' operations, perhaps as soon as the end of this month, if it can come to separate terms with major and minority stockholders. Swiss rejected a buyout by Lufthansa in 2003. But despite massive layoffs and cuts in service, it has managed to post only one small profit - in the third quarter of last year - since emerging from the collapse of Swissair in 2001, when it was Europe's seventh-largest carrier.

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