Boardroom activism will cause tremendous grief for Disney’s Bob Iger
Investors’ appetite for smart corporatism has its limits, and it usually starts with a falling stock price. For further proof, check out what’s happening at Disney.
For years the “House of the Mouse” was the epicenter of political correctness. Investors largely ignored this circus (including a same-sex kiss scene in children’s programming) as Disney shares soared.
Not longer. After longtime CEO Bob Iger retired in 2020, successor Bob Chapek proved far less capable as a wake-up manager and salesman. Pandemic theme park closures didn’t help. Plus, he was also crushed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis for opposing a law that prevented schools from teaching sex to 6-year-olds and lost Disney’s special tax status.
Much of his programming proved futile and his broadcast strategy failed. Disney’s stock collapsed so much that Chapek was shown the door after only about two years on the job.
Iger, 71, turned to starboard and became more concerned. Its stock has fallen largely because costs have risen and broadcasting remains in limbo, eating away at revenue and profits.
A duo of nettle activist investors are now circling the company like vultures. The third point Dan Loeb and Trian Nelson Peltz Partners are unlike passive fund managers in that they use their ownership positions to hedge against changes that they believe will immediately lead to a higher share price, management current be damned.
Nelson Peltz is reportedly looking to encourage more cuts to boost Disney.AP’s stock prices
Both have large stakes in Disney and, for starters, both want Iger to focus less on programming that appeals to the AOC and more on things that appeal to Middle America. They want a coherent broadcast strategy, cost reductions and much more.
Peltz, in particular, should make Disney and Iger squirm. He preaches “constructive engagement” with the companies he targets, but he is a longtime critic of Iger and has a sizeable $940 million stake in the stock that he is likely to add to as he prepares for battle. Meanwhile, look at what he did at GE: He defended CEO Jeff Immelt just two years after buying the stock because he believed Immelt couldn’t make his numbers and the stock flopped.
Immelt’s successor went bye about a year later for the same reason. The current management installed by Peltz is in the process of dismantling what was one of the largest conglomerates in US history.
OK, Peltz often gets his way and is not known for his patience when his money is being squandered as he was at GE. A boardroom battle for the ages is certain now that Peltz asked for a seat on the board and Iger told him to throw sand. Iger is about to step forward, I’m told, by filing a preliminary power of attorney to explain why he thinks Peltz isn’t qualified for the job.
For now, Peltz says he doesn’t want to pull a GE into Disney and screw it up, and Iger could stay on as CEO for the next two years. But based on his track record, Peltz won’t stick around to get the stiff arm unless Disney’s stock starts moving higher, and fast.
That could mean, in addition to everything else on Peltz’s wish list, shedding Disney’s so-called “non-core assets” to boost profits. Bankers tell me that sales of Disney’s cable sports network ESPN, and possibly its entire ABC television network, are on the table and a real possibility to appease Peltz’s desire for a higher stock price.
Also certainly on the table is Iger’s job if he doesn’t make his numbers.
DJ Solly’s last dance? Goldman Sachs’ top partners want David Solomon out as CEO and may leak information to embarrass the company’s board to pressure him out. AFP via Getty Images
Never before has such a telegraphed, fairly routine round of Wall Street layoffs created a bigger stir. But nothing seems to go down quietly when it has David Solomon’s fingerprints all over it.
Solomon, as this column has noted, is the beleaguered CEO of Goldman Sachs. He’s a polarizing figure inside the prestigious white-shoe investment bank — and that goes beyond his controversial insider hustle as a DJ during the Hamptons’ summer party scene.
A contingent of top partners want him gone, and they might get their way if they can come up with enough bad stuff to embarrass Goldman’s board into making a change.
Just as Solomon was about to announce a near-draconian killing of roughly 6% of its staff (dubbed “David’s Day of Destruction”), The Post’s Lydia Moynihan reported that Solomon eagerly ended Goldman’s free coffee perk .
It will take more than a few leaks for Solomon, but they are symptoms of a weak managerial hand. And they can ultimately be deadly in a place like Goldman, with its Game of Thrones management turmoil.
Goldman’s culture is a constant power struggle between traders and investment bankers. When one side controls the balance and the other side is in power, change is not far away.
Remember how trader Jon Corzine (a senator and future governor of New Jersey) was replaced at the helm after a banking coup led by top banker Hank Paulson (a future treasury secretary). Traders Lloyd Blankfein and Gary Cohn exited Paulson & Co. when trading profits increased; Solomon, a longtime banker, ousted Blankfein during a deal boom.
Solomon now finds himself in the middle of Goldman’s CEO dance between higher trading revenues, a slowdown in deals and the near-collapse of his retail banking effort. For him there are several ways out: Pray for more deals and fast (hard). Or finally find a merger partner who I’m told has been waiting to snap up when asset values fall.
The right merger (with Goldman being the official buyer) will also probably keep Solomon in his job for as long as he wants.