Disney Shareholders Shoot Down Plea to Split CEO and Chairman Roles

Bob Iger Disney 2011
John Sciulli/Getty Images

UPDATED: At a mostly positive annual meeting, one shareholder got a big reaction to his assertion of political media bias at ABC News.

At the Walt Disney Co. annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, CEO Bob Iger noted that Disney’s stock closed at a record-high the day prior. "Timing is everything," he quipped, while investors applauded their rising stock.

Iger then treated the audience to an Iron Man 3 trailer, a scene from Monsters University where Sully first meets Mike and a photo of a model of Shanghai Disney, where the company is building its largest theme-park castle in its history. He reiterated there would be "stand-alone" Star Wars movies based on individual characters and teased sequels Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Outside the proceedings in Phoenix, a handful of environmentalists protested against "toxic chemicals" they say Disney uses in backpacks and lunchboxes, and indoors representatives from pension funds in California and Connecticut lobbied for Disney to separate the CEO and chairman roles -- now both held by Iger. Some of those same players urged Disney to rethink the way Iger is paid, given his hefty $40 million fiscal 2012 total compensation. Disney has argued that Iger’s pay went up only 20 percent year-over-year while the stock soared 76 percent in the same frame.

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In the end, the votes went Disney’s way, with challenges against its governance defeated, as expected, and its board members re-elected.

When it came time for a general Q&A, the first question, judging from the loud mix of positive and negative reaction, was arguably the most controversial -- a man complaining about political bias at ABC and ESPN and citing specific examples: Newsman Brian Ross reporting that Dark Knight Rises mass killer James Holmes might be a member of the Tea Party, and ESPN commentator Rob Parker asking if NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III is "a real brother, or a cornball brother" because he has a white fiancee and he might be a Republican. Parker was suspended then let go after his comments.

"I'm just asking you to start playing it straight with the American people," the shareholder said. "Stop the bias and return to an era of objectivity and honesty in the news. The American people will thank you for it."

Iger acknowledged mistakes but was not specific. "We have, at times, either presented the news in a slightly inaccurate way or in ways we weren't necessarily proud of," he said, "but I firmly stand behind our news organizations because I believe that overall the job that they do is one that is worthy of respect."

Another shareholder complained that Disney has switched to Starbucks coffee at its theme parks and wondered if Orin Smith, a Disney board member who once was CEO of Starbucks, had anything to do with the decision. 

Iger, though, "warned" the man that Disney would be adding more Starbucks outlets at its parks because the initiative had been so well received.

And another shareholder complained that in his collection of 3,000 Disney pins, only two were made in America.

"We have talked at length about whether we can continue to add jobs in the United States, moving some of our manufacturing here," Iger said. "However, most of the manufacturing of the goods that we sell are done through third-party licensees."

Email: Paul.Bond@thr.com