Disney’s billionaire activist investor is back as Nelson Peltz hikes both his stake and his demands

On the eve of Disney’s centennial celebrations, Bob Iger could now be staring down the barrel at his second proxy war already just one year after returning as CEO.

Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz wants to wield considerable influence on the board of directors by gaining not one but multiple seats at the table after acquiring a $2.5 billion stake in Iger’s company, according to the Wall Street Journal

The reported 30 million-plus shares owned by his firm, Trian Partners, would more than quadruple its holdings, last reported in mid-August to be 6.4 million shares worth $574 million as of the end of the second quarter. 

Neither Disney nor Trian Partners could immediately respond to a request from Fortune for comment.

If Peltz does decide to go public with another push for more sway, it would come just months after his initial aborted attempt to join the board.

In January, Peltz chose to appeal directly to investors at the annual meeting with a competing nomination after he was “disappointed” the board refused his request for a seat at the table by expanding the number of directors.

Iger and the board countered, claiming he lacked the expertise needed and recommended shareholders simply toss any materials they receive from Peltz straight into the bin. 

Peltz soon backed down saying he secured key commitments from management in February that satisfied him.

But the news around Disney, which officially turns 100 next Monday, hasn’t gotten any better since even as the board extended Iger’s two-year contract. 

Snow White remake symptomatic of Disney’s challenges

Continued heavy streaming losses, a string of commercial flops that included the fifth Indiana Jones installment, and concerns over its financial firepower ahead of a potential Hulu deal have combined to send the stock price tumbling to a near-decade low.

Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the current predicament Disney faces rejuvenating its library of content than its latest live-action remake that seeks to transport its very first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, into the present. 

The 1937 original is such a founding part of the company’s success story that the titular characters of shortened stature symbolically serve as stone pillars propping up the façade of its Burbank headquarters. 

And yet the upcoming film has been dogged by controversy thanks to its Gen Z star, Rachel Zegler, who has sought to elevate the remake by trashing the animated classic.

In an attempt to further skirt controversy, Disney also appears to have avoided casting actors with dwarfism, prompting rebukes from the community.

This mixture of perceived political agenda as well as an emphasis on rehashing older content, such as with Snow White, have prompted consumers to no longer pay money to see the latest Disney movie or visit its various theme parks in the same numbers as prior to the pandemic. 

If Iger wants to see off any further challenges from activist investors like Peltz, he needs to demonstrate he can right the ship.

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