Disney, activist investor Peltz gird for fight over board seat
Activist investor Nelson Peltz on Wednesday was gearing up for a proxy fight with Walt Disney Co after the entertainment giant snubbed his bid for a board seat.
It is the second time in six months that an activist shareholder has mounted pressure on Disney. Last year, billionaire Daniel Loeb pushed for changes. In November, the company brought back old boss Bob Iger as chief executive.
On Wednesday, Disney also named independent director and Nike Inc Executive Chairman Mark Parker as its next chairman, replacing Susan Arnold, who will not stand for re-election. Parker will also chair a newly created succession planning committee that will advise the board on CEO succession planning.
Disney shares rose 1.4% in extended trading. Shares sank last year as losses deepened in its streaming business, and the price is now less than half its 2021 high.
Peltz’s Trian Fund Management LP, which owns a less than 5% stake in Disney, believes Iger should not be back in control of the company and pushed for operational changes and cost cuts, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters in November.
The fund bought a stake that month after Disney posted disappointing earnings, according to a media report. Peltz had signaled interest in a board seat.
Trian believes Disney has excessive compensation practices and lacks cost discipline, the Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Trian is also critical of management overpaying for the assets of 21st Century Fox and bidding aggressively for pay-TV giant Sky PLC, WSJ said.
Peltz, who often presents himself as a partner with constructive advice for companies, fought a bitter proxy fight with Procter & Gamble Co a few years ago and won a board seat. Last year, Trian built up stake in UK’s Unilever Plc and burger-chain Wendy’s.
Investment by Trian has typically been positive for companies’ stocks.
“Trian believes that Disney’s recent performance reflects the hard truth that it is a company in crisis with many challenges weighing on investor sentiment,” the hedge fund said in a statement. Trian owns about 9.4 million Disney shares valued at $900 million.
“For shareholders, regardless of whether or not Peltz wins his battle, his move seems to have made Disney’s management more aggressive in implementing improvements and fine tuning their strategy,” said Michael Ashley Schulman, chief investment officer at Running Point Capital Advisors.
“I’m grabbing a box of popcorn to watch this show!” Schulman said.
Disney said Trian had nominated Peltz for a board seat in opposition to the company’s nominees.
Disney said that while its senior leadership and board “have engaged with Mr. Peltz numerous times over the last few months, the board does not endorse the Trian Group nominee.”
Iger, who came back from retirement in November, has vowed to focus on cost cuts and profitability after the fledgling Disney+ streaming operation became a global giant but lost a lot of money. Disney had said it expects the business to break even by 2024.
Third Point’s Loeb had pushed Disney to spin off the ESPN sports television network and accelerate the planned takeover of Hulu from minority-owner Comcast Corp.
Loeb later tweeted that he better understood ESPN’s value to Disney. Third Point also pushed Disney to refresh its board and reached a settlement in September that handed a seat to former Meta executive Carolyn Everson. (Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and David Gregorio)
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