Penny-Pinching Marvel Chair Ike Perlmutter Played Key Role in Peltz-Disney Proxy Fight (Report)

Perlmutter has longstanding tensions with Disney CEO Bob Iger

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Famously frugal Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter teamed up with his longtime friend and activist investor Nelson Peltz to force spending cuts at Disney, according to a Monday report.

Perlmutter, who has long butted heads with recently returned Disney CEO Bob Iger – with spending often an issue – supported Peltz’s proxy fight aiming to snag him a seat on the board of directors, and The Wall Street Journal reported the two succeeded in forcing the House of Mouse to cut costs and emphasize shareholder value.

Peltz, CEO of the hedge fund Trian Fund Management, who holds about 9.4 million shares of Disney, mounted a campaign for a board seat as part of his effort to “Restore the Magic” in the company, following a multiyear decline in the stock price.

Perlmutter also holds a sizable chunk of Disney stock, though it is not clear exactly how much. He was Disney’s second-largest shareholder in 2009 after he sold Marvel to Disney for $4 billion, according to the Financial Times, which said his stake could be worth about $2.4 billion, or 1% of the company.

Only investors with stakes of 5% or more are required to reveal their holdings. It’s not clear if Perlmutter has sold any of his prior stake or increased his ownership as the stock slumped.

Peltz relied on Perlmutter’s connections to Disney’s management in his efforts to nudge governance changes before he took his proxy fight public, The Journal reported. Perlmutter contacted top Disney executives including Chapek, in an effort to get their support for a Peltz board seat, according to regulatory filings.

Iger last week recalled one disagreement that fed the rift with Perlmutter, who wanted to fire Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige in 2015. Iger stepped in and instead removed Perlmutter as CEO of the studio, and later stripped him of further responsibilities, including control over Marvel’s television shows, the Journal reported, citing sources who said the moves ended up “heightening the acrimony between them.”

“He was not happy about it,” Iger told CNBC last week. “And I think that unhappiness exists today.”

Peltz sent several letters to shareholders grousing that Disney had lost over $120 billion in market value in 2022, pointing to a 50% drop in earnings per share despite a 41% leap in revenue as an indication that spending was out of whack as costs for everything from executive salaries to production costs “ballooned.”

Iger, who was brought back to helm the entertainment juggernaut in November when Disney ousted his chosen successor, Bob Chapek, after just two years, revealed the results of the campaign last week, when he announced that the company will cut 7,000 jobs, make fewer movies and TV shows, and restore its dividend.

Peltz responded by abandoning his proxy fight. “Now Disney plans to do everything we wanted them to do,” the Trian Management CEO said Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “We wish the very best to Bob [Iger], this management team and the board. We will be watching. We will be rooting.”

Iger, in a CNBC interview last week, said it was Perlmutter and Peltz “working together” to make Peltz a director that spurred the changes.

Perlmutter was impressed by the size of Disney’s planned cuts, a person close to the Marvel chairman told the Journal. “This whole fight was not, in Ike’s mind, about changing the Disney board. It was mostly about changing their attitude,” this person said. “For him, overspending is like a cancer. If it’s not constantly watched, it grows.”