Bob Iger’s Full Nelson

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Iconic investor Nelson Peltz’s battle with Disney, and its equally iconic C.E.O. Bob Iger, is looming. Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage
William D. Cohan
January 15, 2023

Sure, Nelson Peltz and his hedge fund, Trian Partners, have only a roughly $940 million stake in Disney, equal to a 0.516 percent ownership position in the company. And, sure, Bob Iger may think he has bigger problems than the 80-year-old activist—to wit: whether to spin off ESPN with some of Disney’s $50 billion in debt, or whether to buy the rest of Hulu (and when) from Comcast, or how to repair morale inside the company after the ouster of Bob Chapek. There is also, of course, the matter of Disney’s money-sucking streaming project, which cashiered nearly $1.5 billion in the last reported quarter, and a moribund stock price, which is down 35 percent in the last year. Peltz’s demand for a board seat might sound like a trifle by comparison.

I can understand why Iger’s supporters may feel that Peltz is a gadfly who knows nothing about the media and the problems facing entertainment companies. (Not true actually.) Plus, Iger would never want to start his reunion tour with a public capitulation. Giving in to Peltz’s request for a board seat might have looked weak, and perhaps unnecessary. As my partner Matt Belloni has wisely noted, the Disney board needs to load up on executives with experience in entertainment, not with shareholder proxy warriors. 

But denying Peltz a board seat, following the January 12 announcement that Trian was mounting a proxy fight, will arguably prove to be a rare mistake by Iger. After all, it’s better to have your enemy inside the tent, looking out, than to have your enemy outside the tent, looking in and taking pot shots loudly and publicly.