Disney's Ongoing Battle Against Trian And Nelson Peltz Explained

Disney's long, costly fight to deny activist investor Nelson Peltz seats on the company's board of directors is over (for now). During today's annual shareholders meeting, Disney announced that investors had voted to reelect all 12 current board members. Peltz's Trian Partners investment firm had sought two seats (one for Peltz and another for Jay Rasulo), but according to Disney their bid fell short by a "significant margin."

Vote totals will be released later today, but specifying the apparent magnitude of Peltz's defeat feels like a bit of an endzone dance by CEO Bob Iger (who's repeatedly called this battle a "distraction" for the company) as well as a warning to the 81-year-old malcontent to knock it off. 

Peltz has been waging this war since last year, and in theory, had cause to question the direction of the company given its precipitous stock slide in the wake of former CEO Bob Chapek's departure. But the company has bounced back nicely, with a 35% stock increase this year (fueled in part by an investment in Epic Games and a plan to begin streaming ESPN in 2025). Meanwhile, Iger has assured shareholders that a robust search for his CEO successor is underway, and that they are determined to not make another Chapek-sized mistake.

If you're wondering why this battle for board seats was such big news, it has as much to do with Peltz as it does his fellow billionaire ally, who was backing Peltz to make creative and cultural changes to the company that would've been ruinous.

The unholy alliance of Peltz and Perlmutter

Peltz was able to mount a serious campaign for board seats by pooling his Disney shares with bitter former Marvel Entertainment honcho Ike Perlmutter. Perlmutter oversaw the development of Marvel Studios' output until 2015, when Disney opted to have the production head Kevin Feige report directly to company chairman Alan Horn. This decision was based in part on Perlmutter's alleged racially insensitive comments (when Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard in the "Iron Man" franchise, Perlmutter reportedly said "black people look the same"). Finally, in 2023, Disney officially fired Perlmutter from Marvel Entertainment altogether.

Peltz is not Perlmutter, but when it comes to how he might've lobbied to change the creative direction of Marvel's movies, he complained about "woke" movies like "Black Panther" and "The Marvels," and stated the following (via Variety):

"Why do I have to have a Marvel [movie] that's all women? Not that I have anything against women, but why do I have to do that? Why can't I have Marvels that are both? Why do I need an all-Black cast?"

It's worth noting that these movies are not "all women" and "all-Black." It should also be noted that Peltz and Perlmutter are vociferous supporters of former President Donald Trump, so honesty clearly isn't high on their list of virtues.

The battle to restore Disney to its former glory continues (sans one unwelcome distraction)

No one is more relieved that this board fight is over than Bob Iger, who returned as CEO to hopefully right the ship after Chapek's brief, yet damaging tenure. Under the latter's leadership, the company's crown animation jewel, Pixar, became a streaming afterthought. Though the Covid pandemic certainly played a role in the company's box office decline, the tepid promotion of positively reviewed films like "Luca" and "Turning Red," which were shunted to Disney+ after brief theatrical runs, diminished a brand that used to churn out one big event feature after another. 2023's "Elemental" restored some of that prestige, and it's likely the forthcoming "Inside Out 2" will make a killing at the box office, but this slippage should've never happened in the first place.

As for the currently struggling Marvel Studios, it's hoped that this summer's "Deadpool & Wolverine" will end the company's box office losing streak. Shareholders will obviously be watching the performance of these films very closely, but today they sent a clear message that they don't want an 81-year-old with no creative experience influencing artistic decisions for the most prestigious and beloved entertainment company on the planet. Now go away, Nelson Peltz.