What will Nelson Peltz, the hyper-aggressive activist hedge fund investor also known as “The Smiling Crocodile,” do next? That’s become one of the great questions looming over the media industry these days. Last year, Nelson and his hedge fund, Trian Partners, accumulated around a $900 million equity stake in Disney, advocated for a bunch of changes, and then began a proxy fight to get a seat on the company’s board of directors. Earlier this year, though, Nelson decided to end the proxy fight after Bob Iger gave him a number of concessions that he was hoping for: $5.5 billion in cost cuts; the elimination of 7,000 jobs; and a potential return of the Disney dividend, which was chopped during the pandemic. “Disney plans to do everything we wanted them to do,” Nelson told CNBC in February.
And yet, the Smiling Crocodile still smelled blood in the water. As Disney’s stock sunk to its lowest level in nine years, Nelson quietly replenished his stake in the company. In October, Nelson revealed that Trian now owns 30 million Disney shares—up from the 6.4 million it owned at the end of the second quarter—worth nearly $2.8 billion, making Nelson one of Disney’s largest individual shareholders, with far more skin in the game than the other directors calling the shots in the boardroom. Now, he wants two board seats—one for him and one, probably, for his son, Matthew—and might re-engage his proxy fight early next year if he doesn’t get them.
Alternately, might he try to reach a compromise with Iger that will give him some, although perhaps not all, of what he’s asking for at the moment? Will Nelson settle for a single board seat? Will the succession process be accelerated, and a successor to Iger at least identified, even if Iger is staying around until the end of 2026, per his recent contract extension? Will the Disney board increase its meager ownership stake in the company so that board members have more skin in the game?