Video: Eisner ouster urged

updated 3/2/2004 6:40:05 PM ET 2004-03-02T23:40:05

Walt Disney Co. dissidents reached out to Wall Street’s largest firms and individual shareholders on Tuesday, trying to rally last-minute votes the day before an annual meeting widely seen as a referendum on Chief Executive and Chairman Michael Eisner.

As the showdown at Wednesday’s shareholder meeting drew near, Disney’s Chief Operating Officer and President Bob Iger accused the company’s critics of conducting a “campaign of misinformation.”

“Tomorrow is going to be, I believe, an interesting day,” Iger told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference. “But it is also a day that I believe gives us an opportunity to prove to everyone that the statements about us and the campaign that has been waged is indeed distorted and one that is rife with misinformation.”

Analysts have speculated on who might replace Eisner if he were to leave the company, although many also said it was more likely he would give up only his position as chairman -- or fight on by keeping both posts.

“My gut feeling is that if the ’vote no’ block is 30 to 35 percent, that could be impetus for the board to suggest that Mr. Eisner step down as chairman and remain as CEO,” said David Miller, a financial analyst for investment bank Sanders Morris Harris.

Iger, asked by reporters if he would take over as Disney chief if Eisner were to depart, said, “That is just a preposterous question.”

Shareholders at Disney’s annual meeting in Philadelphia on Wednesday will vote on whether to reelect directors in what promises to be stormy session.

The company nominees are guaranteed victory since there are no alternatives, but former board members Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, and Stanley Gold have called for shareholders to lodge a protest against Eisner by withholding votes for him and three other directors.

Many state pension funds have said they will oppose Eisner, and the dissident team said they had called on all 50 top institutional shareholders, including visits early on Tuesday.

“We need every vote we can get,” Roy Disney said at a press conference. His team will hold its own meeting for investors with smaller stakes in a 1,000-seat hotel ballroom on Tuesday afternoon.

In a mark of the growing tension around the future of the theme park, movie, and television giant, dissidents threw out some Disney company representatives from their news conference, which was packed with national media as well as local reporters from southern California and central Florida, home of Disney World and Disneyland, respectively.

The dissidents say shareholders would send a strong message by withholding 20 percent of votes for management, and many analysts agree. The company has acknowledged that 30 percent or more may withhold votes but says such a result could be seen as a vote on whether to separate the CEO and chairman roles.

With double-digit profit growth seen through 2007, Disney is going strong, the company has said, and the dogged support for Eisner by Disney’s board could mean that he remains both CEO and chairman even in the face of a substantial shareholder protest, some observers said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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