Investor appetite for woke corporatism has its limits and it usually begins with a declining share price. For further proof, look at what’s going down at Disney.
For years the “House of Mouse” was the epicenter of political correctness. Investors largely ignored this circus (including a same-sex kissing scene in children’s programming) because Disney’s stock soared.
No longer. After longtime CEO Bob Iger retired in 2020, successor Bob Chapek proved to be far less adept as a manager and a seller of wokeness. Pandemic theme-park closures didn’t help. Plus he was also crushed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for opposing a law that prevented schools from teaching sex ed to 6-year-olds and lost Disney’s special tax status.
Much of his programming turned out to be a dud and his streaming strategy floundered. Disney’s stock collapsed so much that Chapek was shown the door just about two years into the job.
Iger, 71, made his return to right the ship and got more grief. His stock has largely flatlined because costs are up and streaming remains in limbo, eating into revenues and profits.
A duo of nettlesome activist investors are now circling the company like vultures. Dan Loeb’s Third Point and Nelson Peltz’s Trian Partners are unlike passive fund managers in that they use their ownership positions to advocate for changes they believe will lead immediately to a higher share price, current management be damned.
Both have big stakes in Disney and, for starters, both want Iger to focus less on programming that appeals to AOC and more on stuff that appeals to Middle America,. They want a coherent streaming strategy, cost cuts and much more.
Peltz, in particular, should make Disney and Iger squirm. He preaches “constructive engagement” with companies he’s targeting, but he’s a longtime critic of Iger and has a significant, $940 million stake in the stock that he will likely add to as he gears up for war. Meanwhile, look what he did at GE: He defenestrated CEO Jeff Immelt just two years after acquiring shares because he believed Immelt couldn’t make his numbers and the stock floundered.
Immelt’s successor went bye-bye about a year later for the same reason. Current management installed by Peltz is in the process of breaking up what was one of the biggest conglomerates in US history.
OK, Peltz often gets his way and isn’t known for his patience when his money is being wasted away as it was at GE. A boardroom battle for the ages is certain now that Peltz demanded a board seat and Iger told him to pound sand. Iger is about to up the ante, I am told, by filing a preliminary proxy to explain why he thinks Peltz is unqualified for the seat.
So far, Peltz says he doesn’t want to pull a GE on Disney and break it up, and Iger can stay as CEO for the next two years. But based on his history, Peltz won’t stand for getting the stiff-arm if Disney’s stock doesn’t start to move higher and fast.
That could mean, in addition to everything else on Peltz’s wish list, the shedding of Disney’s so-called “noncore assets” to boost profits. Bankers tell me sales of Disney’s sports cable network ESPN, and maybe all of its ABC television network, are on the table and a real possibility to appease Peltz’s desire for a higher stock price.
Also most certainly on the table is Iger’s job if he doesn’t make his numbers.
DJ Solly’s last dance?
Never before has such a well-telegraphed, fairly routine round of layoffs on Wall Street created a bigger stir. But it seems nothing goes down quietly when it has David Solomon’s fingerprints on it.
Solomon, as this column has pointed out, is the beleaguered CEO of Goldman Sachs. He’s a polarizing figure inside the prestigious white-shoe investment bank — and it goes beyond his internally controversial side hustle as a DJ during the summer Hamptons party scene.
A contingent of top partners want him out, and they might get their way if they can leak enough bad stuff to embarrass the Goldman board to make a change.
Just as Solomon was poised to announce a hardly draconian, approximately 6% culling of its staff (dubbed “David’s Demolition Day”), The Post’s Lydia Moynihan reported that Solomon callously ended Goldman’s free coffee perk.
It will take more than a few leaks to can Solomon, but they are symptoms of a weak management hand. And they can ultimately be deadly at a place like Goldman, with its “Game of Thrones” management upheavals.
The culture of Goldman is one of constant struggle for power between the traders and investment bankers. When one side controls the balance sheet and the other side is in power, change isn’t far off.
Recall how trader Jon Corzine (a future New Jersey senator and governor) was replaced at the top following a banking coup led by lead banker Hank Paulson (a future treasury secretary). Traders Lloyd Blankfein and Gary Cohn nudged out Paulson & Co. when trading profits soared; Solomon, a longtime banker, prodded out Blankfein during a deal boom.
Solomon now finds himself in the middle of the Goldman CEO dance amid higher trading revenues, a slowdown in deals and the near-collapse of his foray into retail banking. For him there’s a couple of ways out: Pray for more deals and fast (difficult). Or finally find a merger partner that I am told he’s been waiting to seize upon when asset values decline.
The right merger (with Goldman being the official acquirer) will also probably keep Solomon in his job for as long as he wants.
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