Nelson Peltz’s Other C.E.O. Gambit

Trian founder partner Nelson Peltz has commenced a proxy battle against Disney to get the board seat Iger denied him.
It’s still not clear whether Nelson Peltz is going to continue to lobby privately for the Disney board seats he wants or whether he’ll go the public route again. Photo: Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
February 1, 2023

Nelson Peltz has had a busy few months. The activist investor, who over the years has successfully agitated for C.E.O. changes at Heinz and DuPont and Procter & Gamble and GE, began last summer by snake charming Bob Chapek, then the C.E.O. of Disney, suggesting various ideas about the future of ESPN and Hulu, among other things, at a tête-à-tête at EuroDisney. By November, his firm Trian Partners began amassing a nearly $1 billion position in the company. 

When Chapek was replaced by Bob Iger, Peltz hardly paused. He met with the new management and the old board members, resurfaced his investment thesis and asked for a director’s chair of his own. He owned less than one percent of the company, sure, but he had amassed about twenty times more stock than the rest of the directors combined, minus Iger. After a series of blow-offs, however, Peltz commenced a proxy battle against Disney to get the board seat that Iger denied him. 

Then, on Monday, Peltz helped facilitate the ascent of Hein Schumacher as the C.E.O. of Unilever, the European food conglomerate. With Peltz’s full support, Schumacher, 51 years old, will take the reins of Unilever in July from Alan Jope, who announced his retirement last year. Peltz knew and liked the new C.E.O. from his nearly seven years on the board of Heinz, where Schumacher was once an executive. It turns out that Schumacher, the C.E.O. of Royal FrieslandCampina, a Netherlands-based dairy and nutrition company, is also a fellow Unilever board member with Peltz. Peltz has been on the Unilever board since last May after he announced that Trian had bought 37.4 million Unilever shares, a 1.5 percent stake in the company, worth roughly $2 billion these days. Once again, Peltz got what he wanted.