Disney Family Rebukes Nelson Peltz, Praises Bob Iger in Shareholder Letters

The family criticised Peltz and other activists in the company as “wolves in sheep’s clothing, just waiting to tear Disney apart if they can trick shareholders into opening the door for them.”
The family criticised Peltz and other activists in the company as “wolves in sheep’s clothing, just waiting to tear Disney apart if they can trick shareholders into opening the door for them.”

Summary

The descendants of Walt Disney and his late brother Roy O. Disney are publicly backing the company and its CEO ahead of an April shareholders meeting.

Disney’s proxy fight with activist investor Nelson Peltz has turned into a family feud.

The descendants of Walt Disney and his late brother Roy O. Disney on Thursday released two letters addressed to Disney shareholders, backing the company and Chief Executive Bob Iger in their fight against Peltz and his Trian Fund Management. Trian is seeking two seats on the Disney board at April’s annual meeting.“Disney is not a company that makes widgets—it makes magic," read one of the letters, which was signed by Roy P. Disney, Susan Disney Lord, Abigail E. Disney and Tim Disney, all grandchildren of Walt’s brother, who served for decades as the financial brains behind the company. “Bob Iger, his management team, and the Board of Directors are faithful to this magic."

They criticized Peltz and other activists in the company as “wolves in sheep’s clothing, just waiting to tear Disney apart if they can trick shareholders into opening the door for them."

The letters could bolster Disney’s case to shareholders as investors cast their ballots for board members. As April’s annual meeting approaches, Disney and Trian have traded barbs in securities filings and videos posted online.Disney says Peltz and Trian’s other nominee, former Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo, lack successful track records in the media industry necessary to offer constructive advice and are motivated by personal grudges against Iger. Trian, meanwhile, has argued that Disney needs to cut costs and that the company has lost its creative mojo.

A second letter, written with less combative language and signed by Walt Disney’s grandchildren, also opposed Peltz and praised Iger’s leadership. “Bob Iger has grown this company in a modern world, and he continues to maintain a balance of creativity and profit," the letter said.

Since returning to Disney in late 2022, Iger has crafted a vision for the company’s future that includes a focus on streaming, theme parks, its studio and ESPN. “We love Disney and recognize building on its rich history of delighting loyal fans is essential to its future success," a Trian spokesman said in response to the letters. Trian has a track record of investing in great companies and helping them grow long term, he said.

Support for management from the Disney family has historically carried great symbolic importance to shareholders and fans. In 2004, after the board declined to renew his contract, Roy E. Disney, the son of Walt’s brother and a former animation studio executive, launched the “Save Disney" activist campaign along with the attorney Stanley Gold.

The campaign, which targeted smaller individual investors, eventually succeeded in toppling Michael Eisner, whom Roy E. Disney believed was mismanaging the company and tarnishing his uncle’s legacy.

Thursday’s letters are a dramatic twist in the oft-rocky relationship between the Disney family and Iger. Abigail E. Disney, Walt’s niece, co-directed a 2022 documentary called “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales" that criticized low wages among Disney’s hourly parks workers.

In past years, she had publicly berated the company for the size of Iger’s compensation as CEO. A representative for Abigail E. Disney didn’t reply to an email seeking comment Thursday.

Thursday’s letters were written after Roy P. Disney, grandson of Walt’s brother, grew increasingly upset about Peltz’s activist campaign and rallied his cousins together to make a public statement, according to a person familiar with the matter. The grandson couldn’t be reached for comment.

Iger wrote in a statement that he approaches every day “with a deep sense of respect for everything Walt and Roy created" and said it was “incredibly meaningful" to have the support of their families.

“We are committed to protecting their legacy as we chart Disney’s path ahead," Iger wrote.

Write to Robbie Whelan at robbie.whelan@wsj.com

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