Disney gets backing of largest shareholder to pull ahead of Nelson Peltz’s Trian in fierce battle for board seats: report

Disney CEO Bob Iger appears to have the upper hand in his effort to stave off a proxy battle from activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Partners.

With the votes of more than half of all shares counted before Wednesday’s stockholders meeting, Disney has pulled ahead of Trian thanks to the backing of asset management giants Vanguard, BlackRock and T. Rowe, according to a Reuters report.

Peltz, who has questioned Iger’s leadership and business strategy, aims to snatch two seats on the company’s board of directors — one for himself and one for former Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo.

Disney CEO Bob Iger appears to have the upper hand in the proxy battle waged by activist investor Nelson Peltz. WireImage,
Nelson Peltz seeks to add himself and another ally to Disney’s board of directors. REUTERS

Vanguard, Disney’s largest shareholder with an 8.2% stake, and T. Rowe, which owns about a 0.64%, backed the company and said it had voted to re-elect Maria Elena Lagomasino and Michael Froman – the two Disney directors being challenged by Trian, Reuters reported.

Earlier Tuesday, Norges Bank Investment Management, which owns 1.2% stake in Disney, said it had voted to re-elect 11 of the entertainment company’s 12 directors. NBIM, which manages the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, did not vote for any candidates proposed by Trian.

Disney scored another victory on Monday as it appeared to secure the support of another powerful investor, Disney’s second-largest shareholder BlackRock, according to Reuters.

BlackRock, Vanguard, Disney and Trian declined to comment.

While the backing of the big institutional investors could give Disney an early edge in the proxy battle, people involved in reviewing the shareholders’ votes cautioned that results could yet change.

Even those who already voted have a chance to change their decision before Wednesday’s 1 p.m. meeting.

So far, shareholders appear to be siding with the company over Peltz’s Trian. REUTERS

Top executives at Disney, activist investors Trian and Blackwells Capital, and armies of call center workers hit the phones to woo voters in last-minute pleas to elect their board candidates.

Disney wants shareholders to elect all 12 of its current directors while the two hedge funds, Trian and Blackwells, are pushing for their own seats.

The board room battle comes at a pivotal time for Disney, as the company tries to reinvigorate its creative franchises, make its streaming business profitable, and find partners to help build ESPN’s digital future.

Iger has called the activist campaigns a “distraction.”

Disney’s stock price has climbed 34% in 2024, but it remains down nearly 40% from its record-high close in March 2021. The stock closed up 1%, a $122.82 a share, Tuesday

Peltz and the activists have cited the lack of a clear succession plan at Disney for when the 73-year-old Iger eventually steps down as scheduled in 2026.

Iger (seen right with wife Willow Bay) is due to step down as Disney CEO in 2026 — though it is unclear who will succeed him. AFP/Getty Images

Hollywood insiders told The Post that the search for Iger’s successor has become a mess as industry-wide skepticism has surfaced over whether Disney has a candidate ready to take the mantle in two years.

Dana Walden, the Disney executive who is thought to be the frontrunner to succeed Iger, is known as an insider though some have questioned whether she has the chops to run a massive company the size of Disney.

The murky succession picture has some predicting that Iger will remain on the job and have his contract extended one more time.

Additional Reporting by Alexandra Steigrad and Post Wires