Pepper announces end to 'golden coffin' policy
NEW YORK — At Disney’s annual shareholder meeting Tuesday, execs touted the conglom’s DreamWorks-enhanced film slate while shareholders nixed three controversial corporate policy proposals.The most divisive issue — a so-called say-on-pay provision that would have let shareholders vote on execs’ pay packages — got 39% of the vote during the gathering in Oakland, Calif. Dozens of companies in several industries have faced shareholder proposals put forth recently in response to rising executive pay. Another shareholder proposal to end the company’s payment of salary and benefits to a chief exec’s estate in the event of his death got just 27% support. Disney board chair John Pepper said the “golden coffin” policy has already been abandoned with all new exec deals and renegotiating existing pacts to eliminate it would be risky. Disney CEO Bob Iger’s estate would be able to collect $4.5 million under the policy. Despite the wrangling on exec pay, Disney shareholders, whose rancorous sessions a few years ago played a role in Michael Eisner’s exit, easily re-elected members of the conglom’s board at the meeting. Board members were re-elected by more than 90% of the vote. About 94% of shareholders OK’d related amendments to allow the company to award more shares as compensation to a single exec. Speaking before the floor was opened to questions, Iger acknowledged the economy is the worst seen “in our lifetimes” but expressed confidence in “our brands, our products and our people.” He said the company’s strategic moves have enhanced content while keeping costs in check. “We continue to look for ways to adjust our cost base,” he said. Two examples he cited are the 2006 Pixar purchase — a pricey pickup that’s smarter, he said, when ancillary revenues and economies of scale are considered — and the recent DreamWorks distribution deal. Some raised eyebrows about DreamWorks a month ago given the Disney mantra of “fewer but better” films; the fact that non-Disney-branded live action had become all but extinct at the studio; plus the decidedly un-Disney-like fare has DreamWorks sometimes put out over the years. Last month, at a Deutsche Bank media confab in Palm Beach, Fla., Iger said the deal was “not off-strategy at all” because “it’s not our money. It’s other people’s money.” Iger introduced a trailer for Pixar’s summer toon “Up” and an unfinished scene from upcoming 2-D title “The Princess and the Frog.” The latter has just been moved up from Christmas to Thanksgiving. Disney shares, riding a broad-based rally in the stock market Tuesday, gained 6.5% to close at $16.61. But their 47% drop over the past year helped fuel some of the shareholder concerns aired at the meeting. Steve Jobs, who owns more than 7% of Disney shares, was mentioned in the talk of posthumous pay packages. Jobs recently took a six-month break from running Apple to attend to health issues. Reports in the blogosphere — later proved false — that Jobs made a rare appearance at the shareholder meeting briefly boosted Apple shares. A third proposal requiring more disclosure of political activity and contributions by the company got 24% of the vote. In the run-up to the meeting, Disney announced two companywide initiatives. The first, announced Monday, is a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half and electricity use by 10% over the next five years. The other, announced Tuesday, is the formation of D23, the first community for Disney fans in the company’s 85-year history. The program, driven by members’ $74.99 in annual dues, will encompass a website, a quarterly magazine, merchandise, events and an annual confab in Anaheim. The name is a reference to the founding of the Mouse House in 1923.