Dec 5, 2023 - Business

New Disney activist investor calls for truce with Trian

Photo illustration of Nelson Peltz and Bob Iger and abstract shapes.

Trian founder Nelson Peltz and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photos: Marco Bello/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Activist investor Ancora has built a small stake in Disney and is calling on the company to put Trian co-founder Nelson Peltz on the board, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Ancora's push for the company to settle with Trian is likely a view shared by other investors, and any momentum for a truce complicates Disney's efforts to keep Peltz off the board.

Details: Cleveland-based Ancora is an investment management firm with $8.7 billion under management that is known to run aggressive activist campaigns. Past campaigns have included battles with retailer Kohl's and toymaker Hasbro.

  • The firm says it is a current Disney shareholder but did not disclose its stake. It has penned a one-and-a-half-page letter to Disney shareholders calling on them to join in the effort of getting Trian on the board and avoiding a proxy fight.
  • "A degree of shareholder-driven change is certainly warranted in Disney's boardroom following an extended period of absentminded governance, ineffective succession planning, polarizing actions and sustained value destruction," Ancora said in its letter, signed by CEO Frederick DiSanto and Jim Chadwick, president of the firm's alternatives business.

Zoom in: The letter goes on to say that an investor-designated director will help ensure that the company's continued restructuring efforts are held to account.

  • It ends by asking shareholders to support the addition of Peltz or a "qualified designee" to the board.
  • Trian said last week that it plans to nominate Peltz when the Disney director nomination window opens and that it will also nominate other directors. The window opens Tuesday and closes early next month.

The intrigue: Shareholders not leading or teaming up on a proxy fight usually stay quiet this early in a proxy battle, but the Disney fight appears to open the door for investors to take public positions early.

  • Last week, Blackwells Capital, which also says it owns a small Disney stake, took the opposite tack to Ancora, publicly calling on Trian to drop its campaign, calling it "ego-driven and misguided."
  • Shortly after Ancora sent the letter, Reuters reported that Blackwells plans to run a proxy fight against Wendy's, the burger chain where Peltz is chairman and two Trian representatives sit on the board, including Peltz's son Matthew.
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