Disney goes on the offensive in proxy battle with activist Nelson Peltz

By Thomson Reuters Feb 27, 2024 | 8:11 AM

By Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) – Walt Disney appealed directly to shareholders in its battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz, publishing a point-by-point refutation of claims made by the head of Trian Fund Management on the company’s Vote Disney website on Tuesday.

Disney cited nine examples where it disputed claims made by Peltz, who is attempting to gain two board seats, one for himself and another for ally and former Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo.

Disney, Peltz and another activist investor, Blackwells Capital, have roughly one month to persuade investors to back their board room directors. Each party is making its case in hopes of persuading shareholders ranging from institutions to mom and pop investors.

The company attacked a broad range of Peltz’s arguments that ranged from the billionaire investor’s track record to the financial acumen of its former CFO and Peltz ally.

Among the 11 companies on which Peltz or other Trian representative held a board seat, which were cited by Peltz as having benefited from his involvement, about 68% of the cases have underperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, Disney said.

Despite Trian’s claims in February that it and other investors were “caught in the Disney mousetrap,” Disney cited a report claiming Peltz realized a $150 million profit from the sale of about one-third of his stake in the company in early 2023.

Disney also rejected Trian’s claims that its board would benefit from Rasulo’s media and business acumen. Since joining the iHeartMedia Board as lead independent director in May 2019 the media company’s stock has declined 87%, the company noted.

The company defended the performance of its global streaming services, and disputed claims that Disney had refused to engage with Peltz, noting there have been no fewer than 20 “meaningful interactions.”

Disney’s battle with activist investors comes at a pivotal time for Disney, as the company is trying to reinvigorate its creative franchises, make its streaming business profitable and find partners to help build ESPN’s digital future. Chief Executive Bob Iger has called the activist campaigns a “distraction.”

Hedge fund Blackwells Capital also has solicited investor support for its three nominees to Walt Disney’s board, Craig Hatkoff, a co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival who also has a background in real estate, Jessica Schell, a former executive vice president of Warner Bros Home Entertainment, and Leah Solivan, founder and former CEO of TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for freelance labor.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski)