Ike Perlmutter Seeks Revenge against Disney
In an example of true Disney storytelling, a longtime enemy has resurfaced.
He seeks payback for a previous slight involving his most famous company.
Yes, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has returned, and we just learned that he’s the engineer of Trian Partners’ attempt to alter the course of Disney’s business plans.
Who is Perlmutter, and why does he want to take revenge on Disney? We can suddenly connect a lot of dots.
Perlmutter’s History with Disney
In 1990, Ike Perlmutter acquired a business that would eventually turn him into a billionaire.
The Israeli-American purchased Charan Toys, a Canadian business whose subsidiaries included Toy Biz, a toy manufacturer.
Perlmutter immediately based his new business in the United States. By 1993, Toy Biz had gained Marvel Comics’ “exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free licenses.”
Marvel made the deal since it was cash-poor at the time and on the cusp of bankruptcy. It gained 46 percent of Toy Biz equity in the process.
Friends, that one deal has almost accidentally defined Disney for the past 30 years.
When Marvel entered bankruptcy during the late 1990s, a plan unfolded to merge the comic book icon with Toy Biz. This transaction occurred in 1998.
The deal marked the beginning of Marvel Comics as we know it today.
Perlmutter and his cohort, Avi Arad, pushed out other notable investors, including Carl Icahn. In the process, Perlmutter became the power player at Marvel.
By 2005, the entrepreneur had claimed the title of CEO of Marvel Comics. In fact, Perlmutter kept the title after he agreed to Disney’s Marvel purchase.
In the process, Perlmutter earned an $800 million cash settlement plus a massive amount of Disney stock. Even now, he’s one of Disney’s largest shareholders.
At various times over the past few years, Perlmutter’s stake has reached $2.4 billion, depending on the stock’s price at the time.
For obvious reasons, Perlmutter cares deeply about the performance of Disney stock.
Meanwhile, Disney wants nothing to do with the guy.
Disney Breaks with Perlmutter
In 2015, the trades published any number of articles along these lines. The gist was that everyone who worked at Marvel despised Perlmutter.
Kevin Feige, the crown jewel of Marvel, was reportedly ready to leave the company due to his continued frustrations with Perlmutter’s interference.
At the time, Disney CEO Bob Iger personally approved a reorganization such that Feige would report to the since-departed Alan Horn rather than Perlmutter.
The industry icon, Horn, has earned a reputation as smart, kind, and professional. At best, Perlmutter is one of those things.
Imagine the most egregious penny pincher in the world. That person would consider the billionaire Perlmutter far too cheap.
Here’s a legendary anecdote: “Tales of employees digging paper clips out of trash cans to save on office-supply expenditures are as much a part of Marvel lore as Spider-Man’s origin story is. Perlmutter still personally reviews employee expense reports.”
So, yeah. The dude is a bit of a micromanager. On its own, that’s fine, though. Executives come in all shapes and mental makeups.
Many cost-conscious individuals have done quite well on the job. Perlmutter’s problems with Disney came to a boiling point over two other issues, though.
The tycoon resisted plans for Disney to produce movies based on Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
Perlmutter couldn’t conceive of either film performing well at the box office. Each one grossed more than $1 billion and is deemed a massive blockbuster.
When Feige pulled off these unprecedented box office feats, the trades made comments like this one:
“One insider says “Kevin’s checkmate” represents a shocking diminution for Perlmutter.”
I’ll save you the search. Diminution means the reduction in the importance of something/someone. In other words, Feige’s ascension came at Perlmutter’s expense.
Perlmutter’s Plan Revealed
Over the past eight years, the powerful Perlmutter has read stories about how he lost to Feige. It’s humiliating.
As Disney fans, we couldn’t care less about Perlmutter’s ego. However, his influence over the company remains essential to the story.
When someone owns billions of dollars in stock, they can make an impact across all business operations.
While Perlmutter appeared satisfied enough with Disney’s growth to stay away during the pandemic, he watched the stock price drop in 2022. That behavior hurts his bottom line.
Ergo, none of us should be surprised that Perlmutter has returned, albeit in an unexpected way.
The former CEO of Marvel has pushed his friend, activist investor Nelson Peltz, a fellow 80-year-old, to meddle in Disney’s affairs.
We only recently learned the timeline for this, and it frankly explains a lot about what we’ve witnessed transpire publicly at Disney.
Last July, Peltz introduced himself to Chapek during a Paris encounter.
Soon afterward, Perlmutter started pushing the idea for Chapek to give Peltz a seat on Disney’s Board of Directors.
To his credit, Perlmutter discovered the correct approach. At the time, Chapek had narrowly survived the Board’s attempt to replace him in June.
Perlmutter suggested that Peltz would operate as an ally on Disney’s Board, a vote Chapek knew he had each time.
Alas, other reports have surfaced that suggest otherwise. Perlmutter and Peltz planned to use Chapek’s vulnerability against him.
The two billionaires would have plotted to overthrow Chapek with their own CEO.
In that scenario, Perlmutter would have gained control of the entirety of Disney, not just Marvel. He also would have gained complete revenge on Feige and Iger.
What Happens Next?
Current members of Disney’s Board, like the new Chairman, Mark Parker, caught wind of the attempt.
Ironically, Iger owes his return in large part to Perlmutter’s interference.
Still, when Iger came back, Perlmutter and Peltz didn’t drop their attempt.
Instead, the duo has pushed back against Disney and its CEO. I can’t help but think that Iger’s comments in his book regarding Perlmutter factor into these events.
Iger dismissed the former Marvel CEO as someone who “did not respond well to Hollywood slickness.”
Disney’s leader takes credit for liberating Feige from under the thumb of Perlmutter.
Billionaires don’t lose often, and they definitely don’t want to hear about it when they do. This is at least partially about one man’s bruised ego.
Of course, Perlmutter’s shares of Disney stock have also decreased in value.
Iger and Disney can shut down Perlmutter and Peltz by raising the stock price.
Would Perlmutter interfere in a way that damages his own investment? And does Peltz really care enough to keep fighting if he loses the annual shareholders’ meeting vote in March?
Both entrepreneurs felt confident they could bend Chapek to their will. Alas, Bob Iger represents a much bigger challenge.
How desperate is Perlmutter to take revenge against a company and CEO that made him billions?
This whole story was already strange. With Perlmutter involved, it has taken a turn for the absurd…and vitriolic.
Bob Iger might spend the next two months defending Disney against two barbarians at the gate, each of whom has proven a worthy adversary in the past.
Disney really can’t catch a break.
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Feature Photo:AP Photo/Susan Wals