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Sonnenfeld: Disney was right about succession plan

Disney made the right decision by broadening the scope of its succession plan, Yale School of Management's Jeff Sonnenfeld said Friday.

Although Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs was seen as CEO Bob Iger's heir apparent, Disney needed to expand its slate of candidates for the position since Staggs was not the "right guy for the spot," Sonnenfeld told CNBC's "Power Lunch."

Staggs unexpectedly announced on Monday that he will step down from his current role effective May 6 and will leave the company at the end of the fiscal year.

Staggs is leaving Disney because he did not receive assurances from the board that he would succeed Iger, sources told CNBC.

"I think this is a board operating at its absolute best," Sonnenfeld said. "The easiest thing for them to do would have been to stay on the conveyor belt and put on a guy who would have done a fine job in a much more custodial role, not creative."

Staggs did a "wonderful job" running Disney's theme parks, but creative storytelling and having a sense of drama and imagination was not his strongest suit, according to Sonnenfeld.

Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune, who is a board member of Honeywell, Sprint,and Prudential Financial, agreed that Disney made the right choice in expanding its search for other possible candidates.

"There has to be a board with a plan, and having the CEO identify multiple successors and groom those people so there is a choice to be made when it's time to grow," Bethune told "Power Lunch" on Friday.

He said the board at Disney needs to "deepen their bench" of potential successors.

"The best companies develop two to three people, try them on in different roles and get the feeling for what the challenge or the superiority is going to be, and then they make a decision," said Bethune. "I've been there a bunch of times. It is the right thing to do."

Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on this story.

— CNBC's Julia Boorstin contributed to this report.