Bob Iger is looking more and more like St. Sebastian these days. Disney stock is down roughly 13 percent since he returned to the corner office in Burbank and continues to hover around its 52-week lows. The various strategic initiatives that he’s promised to execute—fixing Disney+, selling off ABC, figuring out a plan for Hulu and ESPN—have barely materialized. Then, over the weekend, comes the strategic leak that activist investor Nelson Peltz, “the smiling crocodile,” as Jeff Immelt once called him, has increased his stake in Disney and revived his firm’s plans for a proxy fight.
Could it be that Iger, the legendarily transformative C.E.O. who more than quadrupled Disney’s market value from 2005 to 2020, during a period of extraordinary M&A growth, is not the right C.E.O. to lead the company through the television industry’s macro contraction? Certainly that’s a question on Peltz’s mind, and on the mind of other shareholders. Yes, the Disney board of directors has extended his contract until 2026, but the board also gave a vote of confidence to his predecessor, Bob Chapek, before cutting him off at the knees just five months later. Of course, the board isn’t going to deprive Iger the time required to do the job that they asked him to perform. But the hard truth, alas, is that Iger is not getting the job done at Disney, either.
Peltz, who launched (and withdrew) a previous proxy fight in January after getting much of what he wanted, is clearly looking for a change in strategy. On Monday morning, through a strategic leak to the Wall Street Journal, it was revealed that his hedge fund, Trian Partners, had in the last two months rebuilt its position in the company to something like more than $2.5 billion worth of Disney stock, making it one of the largest shareholders with a 1.7 percent stake. Of course, this information wouldn’t have become public unless the smiling crocodile willed it—there is no S.E.C. disclosure requirement unless an investor passes an ownership threshold, generally around 5 percent of a company’s stock.