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Billionaire Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, who sold Marvel to the Walt Disney Co. in 2009 for $4 billion, has argued in a rare public remarks that the Hollywood giant fired him due to business disagreements.
“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,” Perlmutter stated April 5 (full statement below).
The Marvel mogul also elaborated on the sentiment in a published interview the same day. “I have no doubt that my termination was based on fundamental differences in business between my thinking and Disney leadership, because I care about return on investment,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
While returned Disney CEO Bob Iger is focused on cutting 7,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in costs in a drive for efficiency, Perlmutter argued that in his case this was “merely a convenient excuse to get rid of a longtime executive who dared to challenge the company’s way of doing business.”
Case in point: political showdowns. Amid Disney’s ongoing battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Perlmutter told the Journal what advice he gave Disney executives: “Don’t get involved in politics. You’re going to get hurt. It’s a no-win situation.” One of Disney’s largest individual shareholders, he also shared that he called the politician to tell him: “Ron, you’re right. Disney doesn’t have the right to get involved with politics.”
Last year, Disney froze political donations in the state due to the so-called Don’t Say Gay law, which bars discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms for young students. DeSantis retaliated by signing legislation dissolving independent special tax districts that give Disney privileges of self-government and exemption from certain regulations and fees related to emergency services and development planning. Before DeSantis took power, the oversight board passed an agreement transferring control of Disney’s future development planning to the company. However, the new oversight board recently voted to hire outside legal counsel to examine the agreement, with a legal challenge against it widely expected.
During Disney’s annual shareholder meeting on Monday, Iger called the state’s actions over the past year “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” emphasizing that companies have the right to freedom of speech.
Perlmutter also told the Journal about disagreements over Disney’s movie business strategy. While Disney’s Marvel films have grossed more than $23 billion globally, he urged increased focus on profitability. “All they talk about is box office, box office,” Perlmutter told the newspaper. “I care about the bottom line. I don’t care how big the box office is. Only people in Hollywood talk about box office.”
The Journal report also said that Perlmutter used to pick up the phone to air his concerns to such allies as former CEO Bob Chapek when he was unhappy with Disney’s business approaches or strategies. He also found a kindred spirit in activist investor Nelson Peltz who launched a proxy battle against Disney late in 2022. While the Journal said that Perlmutter was not formally involved with Peltz’s campaign, he called Disney board members, lobbying them to add Peltz to the board to allow a push for spending cuts.
“My experience with any major corporation, when they’re having problems…usually people like Nelson Peltz know how to put it back on track,” Perlmutter argued. “I learned one thing about creative people my whole life: You cannot give them an open credit card…. They’re doing this for 30 years, why would they change?”
Peltz ended his push to join Disney’s board when Iger unveiled plans for cost cuts in February.
Perlmutter’s full released statement on April 5 is below:
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. Despite my employment termination, I will continue to hold my shares of Disney and continue to seek improvements at the company for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my fixation on fiscal discipline to improve efficiency. It is that approach to Disney’s operations that has formed my support for Trian, in seeking to restore the dividend, fix the company’s inflated cost structure, and ensure a successful CEO succession. Trian CEO Nelson Peltz has a long history of improving shareholder returns at many leading consumer businesses. I believe he could have done the same for Disney as a member of its board. It’s a disappointment for me and I believe many fellow shareholders that he wasn’t welcomed to the board and that it took the threat of a proxy contest for the board and management to begin to act.
My ties to Disney are deep and extend more than 30 years. The Marvel brand which I brought to the company in 2009 is now one of the strongest and most profitable business units in the company, as well as one of the best-known entertainment franchises in the world.
I wish only the very best for Disney stakeholders – its employees around the world, its millions of devoted fans and customers, its brilliant creators and contributors, and its many shareholders, like me. I will continue to advocate for actions that secure Disney’s long-term financial health and allow a new generation of management to reverse the trend of falling shareholder equity and return the dividend to its prior level.
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