Disney’s Ohio Players Not Backing Eisner

The eyes of the animation industry are on Philadelphia this week as Walt Disney Co. shareholders converge for their annual meeting on Wednesday, March 3. Roy E. Disney and business partner Stanley Gold are there today encouraging "No" votes for the reelection of company Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, who has now lost the support of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).

OPERS follows the lead of CalPERS, which gave Eisner a no confidence vote last week. Retirement systems in North Carolina and several other states are also withholding votes for Eisner, while four New York City pension funds back the chairman for reelection.

According to CBS MarketWatch, OPERS wants to see the roles of board chairman and CEO divided, which would mean Eisner’s departure from the Board. The organization cites a need for good corporate governance practices and encourages board independence.

In an effort to bolster shareholder confidence and counter the attacks made by Roy Disney, the Walt Disney Co. issued a statement yesterday urging, “Disney’s record of building value is indisputable, as evidenced by the nearly 60 percent increase in stock price in the past year. Disney management and the Board believe Disney is a well-managed company with world-class governance that is on track for earnings growth from continuing operations in excess of 30% this year and has well laid out its key long-term strategies for achieving attractive double-digit earnings growth through 2007.”

The company also addressed shareholders on Friday with a letter that included a recent Variety article form guest columnist David Kirkpatrtick, who suggests that Eisner stuck up for Roy when other top brass nicknamed him "Fredo" after the likeable but ineffectual son of Don Corleone in The Godfather. "While Roy had bad conceptual ideas and terrible story instincts, Michael Eisner felt that it was important to honor Walt Disney’s heritage by being respectful to the person who bore his last name," Kirkpatrick writes.

From Fredo to Frodo, Roy Disney’s website, www.savedisney.com, features an article that compares Eisner to characters from The Lord of the Rings saga. The piece, written by Maeve O’Hara with Merlin Jones, states, "Like Frodo and Gollum, Eisner’s precious must be pried from him by the pure-of-heart, by the fellowship devoted to the good fight."

Disney and Gold hope that tomorrow’s meeting will result in Eisner’s firing in the next month. According to USA Today, the duo says they would consider returning to the Board if that were to happen.

Caption: Stanley Gold, right, points to a reporter as Roy Disney, left, sits beside him during a news conference in Philadelphia Tuesday March 2, 2004. Gold and Disney, dissident ex-board members of The Walt Disney Co., said they will continue their battle to unseat chairman and CEO Michael Eisner beyond the company’s official annual shareholders meeting Wednesday if the board does not fire him. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)