Disney Unleashes Its Inner Jafar in Fight With Nelson Peltz

Disney fired back at the billionaire Beckham-in-law trying to crash its board, depicting the activist investor, Nelson Peltz, as intransigent and pushy. In filings published on Tuesday, the company dismissed Peltz as “oblivious” about its businesses and claimed that despite months of conversations, neither he nor his representatives had “actually presented a single strategic idea for Disney.”

Peltz, 80, has been angling for a board seat for months; according to Disney, he or an emissary—fellow billionaire Isaac Perlmutter—have floated the idea “no less than 20 times since July 2022.”

Peltz, rebuffed by Disney’s leadership, is taking up the matter directly with shareholders through a proxy fight. In his own filings and on a website called “Restore the Magic” launched by his firm, Trian Fund Management, he has pushed for Disney to overhaul its compensation practices and trim costs.

Peltz has also taken aim at CEO Bob Iger, who returned to the top job after a three-year hiatus in November, when his successor, Bob Chapek, was terminated. In one filing, Peltz conspicuously noted that Iger wanted to schedule a board meeting this winter so that it wouldn’t conflict with his plans to “to sail his yacht off the coast of New Zealand.”

Trian is known for its aggressive activism. The firm has lobbied for strategic changes at previous investments, including Heinz, DuPont, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.

Often, those efforts work. The stock price of Wendy’s has risen since Trian first invested in 2005, when it felt the company “had lost its way after the passing of its founder Dave Thomas.” No so at DuPont, where Trian campaigned in 2014 to break up the business into multiple divisions, a proposal that was eventually rejected.

Often, CEOs are reluctant to take advice from Peltz and his activist peers, multiple corporate governance experts told The Daily Beast earlier this week.

“Nobody wants what they would regard as a sort of professional rabble-rouser coming in and telling them to change their plans,” said Stephen Bainbridge, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.

In Tuesday’s filing, Disney told shareholders to vote against Trian’s proposals. As for Peltz— whose daughter, Nicola, is married to the son of Victoria and David Beckham—the company suggested he has no business sitting on the board, saying he does not have “relevant media or technology industry experience to offer.”

The company also complained that Peltz allegedly refused to consider appointing a “mutually acceptable” board candidate instead of himself and rejected other attempted compromises as well.

Instead, Disney claimed, Peltz declared that “he would not be muzzled” and vowed to fight Disney’s leadership head-on.

A spokesperson for the billionaire declined to comment.

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