Campaign to Oust Eisner Takes a Breather

Sep 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The fervor behind two former Walt Disney Co. board members bent on ousting CEO Michael Eisner appeared to be cooling off after the pair endorsed the process by which Disney’s board will search for a replacement for Mr. Eisner.

In a statement issued late Tuesday by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, the duo seemed to ease the pressure they’ve applied to the board most of the year to oust Mr. Eisner and install new leadership.

“In announcing that [the board] will be retaining an independent executive search firm to help select a new CEO — and that it intends to complete the process on or before next June — the board displayed precisely the kind of leadership and independence which we and the vast number of shareholders who share our concerns had been requesting,” Mr. Disney and Mr. Gold said in a statement.

Mr. Eisner in early September announced he would not seek to renew his employment contract when it expires in September 2006. He later said he would also not seek to remain a member of the Disney board upon his departure.

Mr. Disney and Mr. Gold have been leading a nearly year-long campaign to remove Mr. Eisner, whose leadership they argue has been a drag on the company for years.

Their campaign came to a head last March after a withering 45 percent of shareholder votes were withheld for Mr. Eisner’s re-election. At the time the board stripped Mr. Eisner of the chairman title, which unhappy shareholders — including several large pension funds — viewed as a half-measure. But the anti-Eisner movement didn’t let up.

And based on their statement Tuesday, it is unlikely Mr. Disney and Mr. Gold will abandon their crusade entirely. They noted that even with the plan laid out by the board and Mr. Eisner, the two dissidents still have unanswered questions about the process by which Mr. Eisner will be replaced. However, they said they were “willing to take Chairman George Mitchell at his word that Mr. Eisner will step down as both CEO and a member of the Disney board as soon as his replacement is installed.”

The duo said they will also be monitoring the board’s response to a request by six pension funds to add two more independent members to the board.