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Disney Grandchildren Slam Activist Investors in Letters to Company Shareholders: ‘We Know Who the Villains Are in This Story’

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Descendants of Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney have weighed in on the bid by two activist investment firms to win seats on the board of the Walt Disney Co. — and they’re in Bob Iger’s corner in the fight.

Nelson Peltz, the activist investor who runs hedge fund Trian Partners, is waging a proxy-fight battle to install himself and ex-Disney CFO Jay Rasulo as directors; Peltz’s stated aim is to drive up the price of Disney’s stock. Another investment firm, Blackwells Capital, supports the leadership of CEO Bob Iger and the current board but is urging Disney shareholders to vote for its own three candidates instead of Disney’s or Trian’s nominees.

Disney opposes the candidates put forward by Trian and Blackwells as lacking “the appropriate range of talent, skill, perspective and/or expertise,” and is urging shareholders to vote for its own 12 nominees. The candidate slates will be up for a vote at Disney’s 2024 annual shareholders meeting April 3.

On Thursday, grandkids of Walt and Roy Disney issued two separate open letters to Disney shareholders supporting Iger and the current board — and opposing the rival board candidates. (Read both letters below.) The signatories include filmmaker Abigail E. Disney (pictured above), who in the past has publicly criticized the company over various issues.

“What concerns us most about these hedge-fund-backed opportunists is that they have little to no knowledge of what Disney truly means to people like you,” Roy O. Disney’s grandchildren — Abigail E. Disney, Roy P. Disney, Susan Disney Lord and Tim Disney — wrote in their letter. “They haven’t made any arguments for why they should be entrusted with the keys to the kingdom our family built. To the contrary, their ‘I alone can fix it’ mentality makes clear that they are not interested in preserving the Disney magic, but stripping it to the bone to make a quick profit for themselves.”

The letter continued, “Disney is lucky to be led by people who are looking to the future while drawing guidance from our cherished past. As The Walt Disney Company charts its path forward, it is imperative that the strategy Bob Iger, his management team, and the Board of Directors have implemented is not disrupted by those motivated by nothing more than their own self-interest.” It concluded, “Disney stories are filled with heroes and villains. We know who the villains are in this story, and we know they cannot be entrusted with protecting this company’s rich legacy or guiding its bright future.”

The second letter — less strongly worded — is from the children of Diane Disney Miller, who was Walt Disney’s older daughter.

“As the family of Walt Disney, we support The Walt Disney Company management and its Board of Directors, and oppose the nominations put forth by Nelson Peltz,” they wrote. “Bob Iger has grown this company in a modern world, and he continues to maintain a balance of creativity and profit. It is still a company based on the desire to entertain and explore. There have been challenging times, but this current management has adjusted and grown through those challenges.”

A Disney spokesman referred inquiries to a rep for the families. Trian said in a statement, “We love Disney and recognize building on its rich history of delighting loyal fans is essential to its future success. Trian invests in great companies like Disney and helps them grow and thrive for the long term — and we have the track record to prove it at companies like P&G, Heinz and Mondelez.”

Disney has set up its own proxy-vote campaign site at votedisney.com to canvass for shareholder support. “Your Board and management team remain committed to driving meaningful growth and creating sustainable shareholder value long into the future,” the company said in a Feb. 12 letter to shareholders. “Despite these efforts, two activist hedge funds, Trian Fund Management, L.P. and Blackwells Capital, are each seeking to replace members of your Board with their own separate nominees, none of whom your Board believes possess the appropriate range of talent, skill, perspective and/or expertise to effectively support Disney’s building priorities in the face of continuing industry-wide challenges.”

Here’s the letter from Roy O. Disney’s grandchildren:

An Open Letter to Shareholders of The Walt Disney Company

As the grandchildren of Roy O. Disney, we grew up with a front row seat to the magic that fuels the remarkable company he and his brother Walt Disney built together. We spent our childhoods on the studio lot watching movies get made. We explored Disneyland with the creative geniuses behind the happiest place on earth. We saw the passion Walt and Roy had for creating life-long memories for children and families, and the infectious joy they got out of the work they did.

From Mickey and Minnie, to Snow White and Mary Poppins, Disney is not a company that makes widgets – it makes magic. And it takes a special group of leaders with a deep respect and understanding for this tradition to develop the kinds of incredible experiences – whether in a theme park, at a movie theatre, or in your own home – that touch people’s hearts.

Bob Iger, his management team, and the Board of Directors are faithful to this magic. They understand that the longevity of The Walt Disney Company isn’t only the result of smart business decisions; it is rooted in the strong emotional connection Disney continues to forge with generations of people from around the globe.

We may not agree about everything, but we know that our grandfather would be especially proud of what Disney means to the world today. We also know that, like us, he would be very concerned by the threat posed by self-anointed “activist investors” who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, just waiting to tear Disney apart if they can trick shareholders into opening the door for them.

What concerns us most about these hedge-fund-backed opportunists is that they have little to no knowledge of what Disney truly means to people like you. They haven’t made any arguments for why they should be entrusted with the keys to the kingdom our family built. To the contrary, their “I alone can fix it” mentality makes clear that they are not interested in preserving the Disney magic, but stripping it to the bone to make a quick profit for themselves.

We’re old enough to remember the bitter episode four decades ago when another corporate raider, Saul Steinberg — who, as it so happens, was good friends with one of the current activists, Nelson Peltz — launched a hostile takeover attempt of Disney and threatened to break apart the company. He was defeated, much as these activists must be defeated today.

This is not a company of interchangeable parts. It is home to thousands and thousands of dedicated employees who share the same passion Walt and Roy had for bringing hope and happiness to people through the magic of storytelling. Disney is lucky to be led by people who are looking to the future while drawing guidance from our cherished past. As The Walt Disney Company charts its path forward, it is imperative that the strategy Bob Iger, his management team, and the Board of Directors have implemented is not disrupted by those motivated by nothing more than their own self-interest.

Disney stories are filled with heroes and villains. We know who the villains are in this story, and we know they cannot be entrusted with protecting this company’s rich legacy or guiding its bright future.

Sincerely,

Roy P. Disney
Susan Disney Lord
Abigail E. Disney
Tim Disney

Here is the letter from Diane Disney Miller’s children:

To the Shareholders of The Walt Disney Company,

As the family of Walt Disney, we support The Walt Disney Company management and its Board of Directors, and oppose the nominations put forth by Nelson Peltz.

The integrity in the name of Walt Disney has always been a priority to our family. Our mother — Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s eldest daughter — created The Walt Disney Family Museum to ensure that the history of her father’s life and those involved in the creation of his dreams would be honored and remembered. We still believe in this brand of integrity and storytelling.

Bob Iger has grown this company in a modern world, and he continues to maintain a balance of creativity and profit. It is still a company based on the desire to entertain and explore. There have been challenging times, but this current management has adjusted and grown through those challenges.

We are never without gratitude and pride for our grandfather and being a part of this family, and we will always cherish the memories and the life that we had with him. With this gratitude, it matters to us what the company does and how Walt Disney is represented.

As such, we support Bob Iger and The Walt Disney Company Board.

Sincerely,

Walter Elias Disney Miller
Tamara Diane Miller
Jennifer Miller-Goff
Joanna Sharon Miller