×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

CFO: Ovitz never fit in

Wilson sez superagent faltered early

The parade of Disney board members who have defended their decision to pay out $140 million to end Michael Ovitz’s tenure at the Mouse House continued Monday, as former chief financial officer Gary Wilson took the stand.

Wilson, now chairman of the board at Northwest Airlines, said cocktail-party chatter confirmed that Ovitz was not fitting into the company during two awkward trips abroad in 1996.

In June 1996, Michael Eisner, Wilson and Ovitz took a bike trip through France. During individual talks with the duo, Wilson came to understand that Eisner had “a very difficult time controlling the troops” when it came to gaining their acceptance of Ovitz.

Later in the year, Eisner asked Wilson to persuade Ovitz to leave the company during an upcoming trip Wilson and Ovitz were taking with their spouses in the Caribbean.

Thus, during the inaugural cruise of the boat they bought together, Wilson told Ovitz that he felt it was in the best interest of the company for Ovitz to leave.

“He was desperately trying to succeed,” Wilson said, but he convinced Ovitz that all his efforts were moot.

A clean break

Wilson told Eisner and Ovitz they should work out something “mutually beneficial” to prevent the separation from dragging on for months.

“If we wanted to hire a new president, it would have been very hard to do with Mr. Ovitz hanging around,” Wilson said. “It was in the best interest of the company, in my judgment, to pay out the contract.”

Wilson, who was Disney chief financial officer from 1985-89 and remains a director, deflected the suggestion that the board acted in haste in the hiring of the mercurial superagent. He argued that it was not a case of cowed directors listening only to dictates set down by Eisner.

“Eisner would suggest names and we would do our due diligence,” said Wilson, a member of the board’s nominating committee. Wilson added that he and Eisner talked for years about how to bring Ovitz into the Mouse House fold, and the main stumbling block was how to lure him away from his post at CAA.

Shareholders are suing Disney, contending that it was a waste of money to give Ovitz a no-fault termination and the huge golden parachute upon his departure. Disney board members contend that they pushed Ovitz out at just the right time in order to prevent further financial damage to the company.

Monday also saw the testimony of former Georgetown U. president Leo O’Donovan, a Disney director who took the stand in a sports coat with a clerical shirt and white collar underneath.

Lack of chemistry

O’Donovan said he noticed a lack of chemistry between Ovitz and Eisner as early as September 1996, when O’Donovan began serving on the board. The press release announcing Ovitz’s departure was issued two months later.

Echoing the earlier testimony of former board members Reveta Bowers and Richard Nunis, O’Donovan said he relied on the judgment of chief counsel Sandy Litvack that Ovitz could not be terminated “for cause” — a designation that would nullify his severance package.

“I would distinguish between being reasonably informed and doing separate research,” O’Donovan said. He went on to say he felt informed on the issue by attending and participating in board meetings.

Wilson’s testimony will continue today. The trial, which has dragged on for almost two months after an initial estimate that it would take three weeks, will continue with testimony until Dec. 15, at which point it will recess until January.

More Scene

  • Mj Rodriguez, Alexis Martin Woodall, Ryan

    Peabody Winners Talk Empowered Women and Social Justice Challenges on Red Carpet

    The theme on the red carpet at the 78th annual Peabody Awards? Empowering women. On Saturday, Peabody winners gathered at Cipriani Wall Street, and one of the hot topics on everyone’s mind was the wave of female empowerment spreading across the industry. From Peabody’s Career Achievement Award recipient Rita Moreno to shows like ‘Killing Eve’ [...]

  • CAP D'ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 18:

    Cannes: Robert Pattinson, Shailene Woodley Attend Starry Vanity Fair Party

    It’s true what they say about Batman being a loner. On Saturday night, Robert Pattinson made his first public appearance since being cast as the new Dark Knight at this year’s Vanity Fair Party at the Cannes Film Festival. But while all the other A-list guests mingled and worked the crowd at the restaurant of [...]

  • Taron Egerton Cannes Film Festival 2019

    Taron Egerton Addresses ‘Rocketman’ Comparisons to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ Takes Subtle Jab at Bryan Singer

    Taron Egerton says that he’s flattered by comparisons between his Elton John musical “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” last year’s smash hit about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. “I’m proud that we’re mentioned in the same breath,” says Egerton, who plays John in the upcoming “Rocketman,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to a five-minute standing [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Dua Lipa Tom Jones

    Dua Lipa and Tom Jones to Perform at amfAR's Cannes Gala (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety‘s Marc Malkin is on the scene at the Cannes Film Festival. Get the scoop on all the news, parties and more straight from the Croisette below. AmfAR’s upcoming Cannes gala is shaping up quite nicely. Sources tell Variety that the evening will feature performances by Dua Lipa and Tom Jones. And they’re not the only [...]

  • "Deadwood" Cast Describes Emotional Homecoming on

    'Deadwood' Cast Describes Emotional Homecoming on the Historic Set

    The phrase “Welcome the f— back” marks the billboards and posters for the return of “Deadwood,” but that sentiment doesn’t just apply to the audience. Returning to the town of Deadwood was a homecoming of sorts for the cast and crew of the HBO show, who shared that stepping back into the meticulously recreated late-1800s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content