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Would Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter still be employed by The Walt Disney Co. had he not gotten involved in Nelson Peltz’s activist effort earlier this year?
Nope, says Bob Iger.
Speaking to Time magazine for its annual Time 100 issue, Iger (one of the cover subjects) addressed Perlmutter and a number of other hot button issues, including the company’s feud with Ron DeSantis over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and ESPN’s exploration of sports betting.
Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment, was let go by Disney in March when the company shuttered his division, folding its responsibilities into other departments.
In a statement after his termination, Perlmutter said: “I have long expected that my working relationship with Disney would end. That it should come as a result of my trying to help Disney improve its business should sadden many shareholders as it does me, the company’s largest individual shareholder.”
Iger, however, insisted to Time that Perlmutter’s role in Peltz’s activist play did not play a role in his departure.
“This was a necessary step in the direction of us creating a more efficient company. There was redundancy specific to the way Marvel was being managed,” Iger said when asked about the decision. When pressed whether Peltz played a role, Iger responded that “this decision would have been made regardless of that.”
And the CEO also discussed Disney’s tit for tat feud with the state of Florida. The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, working with the state legislature, stripped the Reedy Creek Improvement District of its powers over Walt Disney World. Reedy Creek, which was established to help create Disney World, was technically an independent board, but effectively controlled by people associated with Disney.
However last month it was revealed that before DeSantis’ hand-picked board took over the district, Reedy Creek handed most of its power back to the company, causing many observers to argue that Disney had checkmated DeSantis.
In the Time interview, Iger took a more measured approach, saying that he would be happy to meet with DeSantis over the district.
“I do not view this as a going-to-mattresses situation for us. If the governor of Florida wants to meet with me to discuss all of this, of course, I would be glad to do that,” he said. “You know, I’m one that typically has respected our elected officials and the responsibility that they have, and there would be no reason why I wouldn’t do that.”
But he added that Disney World brings enormous value to Florida, and the company wants to continue investing in it.
“Disney World opened just over 50 years ago. It was the vision and the dream of Walt Disney, probably the most ambitious thing he ever did—turning swampland in Central Florida into a business that employs over 75,000 people, that is visited by tens of millions of people every year, that is a major tourist destination in the United States, and for the state of Florida, that creates huge value for our company and its employees, and for the state of Florida itself,” Iger said. “Our sole goal in Florida is to continue creating that value for all those constituencies. All we want is a relationship with the state that enables us to continue to do that. We have the wherewithal and we have the desire to continue to invest there to grow that business so that we can hire more people so that we can increase our attendance, and so that we can basically increase more value for the Walt Disney Company and for the state of Florida. It’s that simple.”
And then there’s ESPN, which has been exploring potential sports betting partnerships in a bid to grow its business. Iger, during his first tenure as CEO, was skeptical of ESPN getting involved in betting, expressing concern about its impact to the larger Disney brand. His thinking has shifted.
“I was probably on the more conservative side about this for a long time. But I’ve changed because I think the acceptance of sports betting has grown significantly,” Iger said. “And my desire is to see that the company continues to serve its consumers well, without us really, I think, distancing ourselves from values, because we’re not actually causing the bets to be made. We’re just enabling people to link to companies that do that.”
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