New York City Retirement Systems Back Disney Board In Bitter Proxy Fight

EXCLUSIVE: The New York City Retirement Systems are in Disney’s corner amid bitter proxy fight with activist investor Nelson Peltz.

Disney’s “shares have performed well. Disney’s management and board are focused on a strategic transformation, and as shareholders we believe that they should be given the time to execute on this,” NYC Comptroller Brad Lander said in a statement to Deadline.

More from Deadline

“What remains clear is that boards are most effective when members bring valuable perspectives and relevant experience and are focused on the long-term health of the company. Nelson Peltz’s troubling performance on other company boards raise concerns about the value he would bring to the table, and we do not believe this would be beneficial to preserving shareholder value,” he said. “The New York City Retirement Systems intend to vote in favor of the candidates nominated by management.”

The five city pension funds hold 2.6 million Disney shares worth just under $300 million. The company has 1.8 billion shares outstanding. The $250-billion system isn’t a massive Disney investor, but it is a high profile one.

Last August, Lander — on behalf of the funds — wrote to the heads of major entertainment companies that they risked losing investor confidence by allowing the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes to drag on.

Peltz’ Trian Partners has been pushing aggressively for a seat on Disney’s board, with Disney pushing back as aggressively to keep him off it. Shareholders are currently voting their choice of directors to the company’s 12-member board with voting ending on April 2. The tally will be announced at Disney’s shareholder meeting the next day.

Both sides been gathering allies and inundating stockholders with white papers, videos and detailed arguments. Billionaire Peltz says he thinks Disney’s board needs some oversight of succession planning and business strategy. Disney insists his addition would be less than useful to a company in the midst of a turnaround led by a highly qualified board and management.

Trian is also seeking a board seat for former Disney executive Jay Rasulo.

So far today, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management blasted Peltz on CNBC. A Disney filing titled “Oh, Nelson, Part II” says the company’s “performance has driven its 46% share price gain, not Peltz,” with graphics. And Trian’s Restore The Magic site reminded stockholders for Peltz and Rasulo and withhold votes for Disney’s current board members and nominees Maria Elena Lagomasino and Michael Froman. Another investment firm Blackwells has three other nominees of its own.

The 12 nominees with the most votes will make up the board.

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.