Nelson Peltz has a new ally in his efforts to get a seat on the Disney board: the activist investor Ancora.
The boutique investment firm, which typically focuses on family wealth and asset management, penned a letter to fellow Disney shareholders supporting Peltz and his firm, Trian Fund Management in the quest for access to the boardroom.
“We believe Disney is saying the right things about restructuring and transforming the enterprise,” Ancora Holdings Group Chairman and CEO Frederick DiSanto and Ancora Alternatives President James Chadwick wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. “Nonetheless, the addition of a shareholder representative or investor-designated directors to the board can help ensure that these efforts are carried out in the most effective way.”
Hoping to “avert an election contest following a year of distractions and disappointing performance” the letter called for shareholders to encourage the board “to pursue a viable compromise” with Peltz and Trian, the letter said.
Disney last week roundly rebuffed Peltz’s latest effort to obtain board seats for Trian, maintaining that the effort is rooted in former Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter’s “longstanding personal agenda” against Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Perlmutter has joined his considerable stake in Disney stock, about 25 million shares, with Trian’s holdings of about 8 million shares, in the campaign to place Peltz and allies on the board.
Peltz renewed his fight with Disney after the company’s quarterly results were released last month, after backing off in February, when Iger announced sweeping cuts of $3 billion, including 7,000 layoffs at The House of Mouse.
But despite a fiscal fourth-quarter report that showed gains in Disney+ subscribers , revenue growth of 5% and earnings per share that topped Wall Street expectations, Peltz and Trian found continued fault with Iger’s leadership and the languishing Disney stock price.
Ancora, which has previously joined other activist campaigns, has now joined the fight, even though it did not disclose how much Disney stock it holds.
“A degree of shareholder-driven change is certainly warranted in Disney’s boardroom following an extended period of absentminded governance, ineffective succession planning, polarizing actions and sustained value destruction,” the firm’s letter states. “Many of Disney’s current directors and executives bear responsibility for lapses that have undermined the company’s positioning in the exceedingly competitive and ever-changing entertainment world.
“While it has been argued that challenges largely stem from the tenure of Bob Chapek, the board was in the driver’s seat before, during and after that time,” it continues. “The upshot is that Disney shareholders have incurred meaningful losses,” and the company has “dramatically underperformed the S&P 500 Media & Entertainment Index” the letter states.
It also accuses the board of overseeing “a deterioration of what was once the most unifying brand in the world,” by “allowing Disney to devote shareholders’ resources to a number of politicized initiatives.” It does not specify what those initiatives are, but the implicit suggestion is Disney’s fight with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“The Company is increasingly dividing – rather than delighting – a growing number of consumers,” the letter states, citing a recent poll that found Disney is the fifth most polarizing brand in the world, right behind the disgraced and collapsed crypto exchange FTX.
“Disney’s board faces a number of pivotal decisions over the next 12 to 24 months as it rebuilds consumer trust and oversees a complex transformation that includes an optimization of the streaming segment, a direct-to-consumer pivot for ESPN, the evolution of the Company’s film studios and a growth plan for parks,” the letter continued. “The board will also once again need to engage in critical succession planning. Having a sizable owner in the boardroom to bring the market’s perspective and serve as one of many voices would only benefit shareholders. While this type of director may not always be needed at Disney, we contend it is the right addition at this key moment in time.”
The letter also slapped back at the investment firm Blackwells Capital, another large shareholder that last week urged Peltz to end what it called his “ego-driven campaign.” Ancora called the firm’s principal, Jason Aintabi, “a publicity-seeking greenmailer with a questionable personal and business history” who opposes Peltz’s efforts despite having “made billions of dollars over many decades” through shareholder activism.