Disney Shareholders Elect Board Nominees; Bob Iger Talks 'Muppets' Sequel, 'Avatar' Theme Park Land
Despite complaints from some proxy advisers and large shareholders, including the state of Connecticut, Disney's 10 board nominees were easily elected, the company said Tuesday.
At Disney's annual shareholder meeting, held this year in Kansas City, Mo., executives said preliminary data suggested that at least 73 percent of the votes present were in favor of the nominees.
Glass Lewis & Co. and Institutional Shareholders Services had suggested that CEO Bob Iger should not replace John Pepper Jr., whose chairmanship ended after Tuesday's meeting.
The advice of the proxy advisers -- though apparently ignored by most shareholders -- was to vote against the board members who made it possible for Iger to be both CEO and chairman rather than keep those two positions separate, as they had been since 2004.
Disney's statement after the meeting said the company "took this action to secure Mr. Iger's leadership through his expected retirement in 2016 to provide for an effective, seamless succession and management transition and a continuity of the company's proven strategy."
Orin Smith, a six-year veteran of the board and the former CEO of Starbucks, was elected the company's new "independent lead director," Disney confirmed after the meeting.
The proxy-advisory services also were concerned that Iger's pay has been extravagant, though 57 percent of the shareholder votes approved of Disney's compensation plan. In 2011, Iger earned $31.4 million in salary, bonus and equity, up 12 percent from the prior year when 77 percent of shareholders voted in favor of the compensation plan.
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The 90-minute shareholders meeting was low key, with Iger announcing a plan to create 1,000 jobs for U.S. military veterans during the next three years then answering mostly good-natured questions from the audience.
He was challenged to defend the decision to create a theme-park land based on Avatar on the grounds that it's not a Disney property and that that the parks already license Star Wars. Iger swatted down the objections by pointing out that two Avatar movie sequels are in the works, so the franchise should have longevity, and that a re-creation of the film's Pandora planet is a uniquely intriguing undertaking. The Avatar attraction should open at Animal Kingdom in Orlando in 2015, Iger said.
Iger also said Disney is working on a sequel to The Muppets and on ways to bring the Disney Channel animated hit Phineas and Ferb to the theme parks. It's also looking to further extend the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise into parks, as Disney is doing with a Cars land coming soon, though Iger didn't suggest anything quite so extravagant for Pirates.
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Iger also gave some love to the musical Newsies, a 1992 box-office dud that is making its way to Broadway soon as a stage production. Iger said if it succeeds there, they'll create more products based on the film, which starred an 18-year-old Christian Bale.
When a child asked Iger if Pixar will ever make more than one film a year, Iger demurred, though it gave him a chance to promote the upcoming 3D re-release of Finding Nemo, the 2003 blockbuster directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton.
Stanton's current movie, John Carter, is on its way to being a huge failure, and a shareholder on Tuesday asked CFO Jay Rasulo to lay out the financials. The executive replied that it's too early.