Disney investors threaten to revolt over chief executives pay
Shareholders unhappy with chairman Bob Iger's rising compensation to vote no to his re-election
The Guardian in California
A revolution is brewing in the tree-lined streets of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, as shareholders prepare to fight the creeping power and rising rewards of the chairman and chief executive, Bob Iger.
Iger took home more than US$40 million in the year to last September, including a cash bonus of US$16.5 million.
The second largest pension fund in the US, the Californian teachers fund CalSTRS, which owns more than 5 million Disney shares, or 0.3 per cent of the company, said it would vote against Iger's re-election as chairman and Disney's executive pay packages at the company's annual meeting on Wednesday.
CalSTRS has had support from the Californian public sector workers pension fund CalPERS, which owns another 0.3 per cent of Disney, for its proposal to strip Iger of one of his roles.
In 2004 when Michael Eisner was in charge, the funds forced Disney to split the two top jobs. Disney agreed to appoint an independent chairman and to offer shareholders an explanation if it chose to give the post to a company executive. But in 2011 the company reversed that decision, paving the way for Iger to take full control last year.
British fund manager Hermes, which owns 5.7 million Disney shares, added its voice to the dissenting shareholders on Friday, saying it had "serious concerns" about Disney's leadership structure, the accountability of the board and its "flawed approach" to executive pay.
It said Iger's appointment as chairman until 2016 was "a material failure of governance and a blatant reversal of Walt Disney's commitment to maintain an independent chair". Tim Goodman, of Hermes equity ownership services, said: "We want to see Walt Disney endure as the Magic Kingdom, not the tragic kingdom."
Hermes has put forward a proposal, backed by the two pension funds, that investors holding 3 per cent of the company's shares either individually or as a group can nominate people to the board, in an attempt to improve accountability.
But shareholders will be hard-pushed to argue with Iger's track record.
Since taking over in 2005 he has transformed Disney with the multibillion-dollar acquisitions of Pixar Animation Studios, the comics giant Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars producer Lucasfilm.