Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has commented on his layoff from chairman of Marvel Entertainment by The Walt Disney Company in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Perlmutter says he was fired because of “fundamental differences in business” between himself and Disney leadership.
Perlmutter was on the board of Marvel Comics beginning in 1993. He went on to be vice chairman and then CEO, a position he retained when Disney purchased Marvel. He was later shifted to chairman of Marvel Entertainment, running comic book publishing and merchandise licensing, while Kevin Feige was in charge of Marvel Studios.
After his layoff, Perlmutter is still one of Disney’s largest individual shareholders, owning approximately 30 million shares worth about $3 billion.
Perlmutter told WSJ that he tried for years to convince Disney to spend less money on Marvel Studios films, which he thought were too long and too expensive to produce.
“I have no doubt that my termination was based on fundamental differences in business between my thinking and Disney leadership,” he said, “because I care about return on investment.”
He said Disney and Marvel Studios executives have a singular focus on ticket sales.
Marvel films distributed by Disney have grossed more than $23 billion globally.
“All they talk about is box office, box office,” Perlmutter said. “I care about the bottom line. I don’t care how big the box office is. Only people in Hollywood talk about box office.”
Perlmutter was let go amidst 7,000 layoffs from Disney as part of a cost-cutting measure. Perlmutter said he doesn’t remember being told this rationale for his dismissal.
“It was merely a convenient excuse to get rid of a longtime executive who dared to challenge the company’s way of doing business,” he said.
Perlmutter was among those advocating for Nelson Peltz to join Disney’s board.
Nelson Peltz of Trian Group had been pushing for a spot on the Disney board, but finally dropped the fight early this year. “Our filings indicate that both Ike and Nelson were working together to try to encourage the board or convince the board to put Nelson on the board,” Iger told CNBC. “They have a relationship that dates back quite some time. We bought Marvel in 2009. I promised Ike the job that he would continue to run Marvel after that. Not forever, necessarily. But after that.”
Perlmutter said of the Peltz situation, “My experience with any major corporation, when they’re having problems and they don’t have the free cash or whatever it is, usually people like Nelson Peltz know how to put it back on track. I learned one thing about creative people my whole life: You cannot give them an open credit card… They’re doing this for 30 years, why would they change?”
Morton Handel, previous chairman of Marvel Entertainment, said, “Ike’s a penny-pincher. It’s irritating to some people, and there are some people who don’t believe in that manner of running a business. But in my own experience, I have never come across a more effective manager than Ike Perlmutter.”
Perlmutter was also frustrated by the fight between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the past year. After Disney publicly denounced Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, known colloquially as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis began a campaign to strip Disney of power by taking over the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) of Walt Disney World. RCID is now the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis recently ordered a criminal investigation into last-minute agreements by RCID and Disney. CEO Bob Iger commented this week that he believes DeSantis is infringing on Disney’s constitutional right to free speech.
Perlmutter said he called DeSantis last year and said, “Ron, you’re right. Disney doesn’t have the right to get involved with politics, and you know, I’m the largest individual shareholder.” He told Disney executives, “Don’t get involved in politics. You’re going to get hurt. It’s a no-win situation.”
Perlmutter and Feige
Perlmutter infamously almost fired Kevin Feige from Marvel but was stopped by Bob Iger.
Perlmutter, whose position was shifted to chairman in 2017, was “intent on firing Kevin Feige” in 2015, Iger said. This would have been around the same time that Feige was in talks to switch to DC because of frustrations with Perlmutter. Feige is now Chief Creative Officer at Marvel.
“I thought that was a mistake,” Iger continued in regards to Perlmutter firing Feige, “and stepped in to prevent that from happening. I think Kevin is an incredibly, incredibly talented executive that you know, the Marvel track record speaks for itself. And so I moved the moviemaking operation of Marvel out from under Ike into the movie studio under Alan Horn.” Horn was chairman of Walt Disney Studios at the time.
CNBC’s David Faber asked if there was animosity left after this decision, and Iger said, “You’d have to ask Ike about that. But let’s put it this way. He was not happy about it. And I think that unhappiness exists today. And you know, what the link is between that and [Nelson Peltz], his relationship. I think that’s something that you can speculate about. I won’t.”
The Walt Disney Company Layoffs
Under CEO Bob Iger, the company is undergoing the first of three rounds of layoffs, expecting to total around 7,000 positions eliminated. The three Marvel Entertainment leaders join Senior Vice President of Production for Hulu Mark Levenstein, , senior vice president of Production Management & Operations for Freeform Jayne Bieber, and Disney VP of Corporate Communications Jeffrey R. Epstein.
Executives at The Walt Disney Company were asked by Iger to identify thousands of potential layoff candidates in an effort to cut nearly $5.5 billion in costs. Iger is reportedly on “a push for profitability.”
The company’s restructuring comes after previous CEO Bob Chapek was fired last November. Though many changes have already been made within the company after his exit, the stock price continues to be an issue. The majority of job cuts are expected to happen after the April 3 virtual meeting with shareholders.