Michael Ovitz, the former president at Walt Disney Co., testified Wednesday that he fought and begged to stay in his job until his good friend and boss Michael Eisner pushed him out.
At a trial over the board’s decision to pay Ovitz a $140 million severance package -- which shareholders want returned to the company -- Ovitz told the court he had wanted to remain in his job despite months of fighting and turmoil.
“I wasn’t going to leave there as a loser,” he said during his second day of testimony at Delaware’s Court of Chancery business court.
By the fall of 1996, however, just 14 months after Eisner had hired him, Ovitz said, “I was being left out of meetings. Nobody was talking to me. I was cut out like cancer.”
“I guess you could say I got pushed out the sixth floor window,” he testified, referring to the executive suite at Disney’s headquarters.
But shareholders say rather than firing Ovitz, Eisner and the board allowed him to walk away with the multimillion dollar severance package.
Shareholders claim the board was asleep at the wheel in 1995 when Eisner hired Ovitz, who had been one of Hollywood’s most powerful talent agents, and again when he left the company little more than a year later.
Ovitz vehemently denied accusations that he misused company money on personal luxuries and gifts, saying he initially failed to understand the company’s expense policy and immediately turned over every present -- except one -- that he ever received.
That gift, an early version of a handheld organizer made by Sony, only remained on his desk while he studied it, he testified.
Ovitz also said he had nothing to do with renovations on his office that cost more than $2 million -- another example shareholders have used in claiming he overspent.
“I never approved the budget, I didn’t ask for this office and I had no idea what it cost,” he said.
Over the past two days of testimony, Ovitz has laid much of the blame for his Disney troubles at the feet of Eisner, who had once been among his closest friends.
Ovitz has testified that Eisner failed to back him up when it came to disagreements with other senior executives, saying he begged Eisner for support and received only one compliment for every 100 pieces of criticism.
Even so, Ovitz said he was “flabbergasted” when another executive walked into his office in the fall of 1996 and told him Eisner wanted him to leave the company.
“If Michael Eisner wants to terminate my services at the company, he ought to come in here and do it to my face,” he responded, according to the testimony.