Updated from 12:40 p.m.
You'll have to do better than that, Roy.
The resignation letter than
Vice Chairman Roy Disney sent to CEO Michael Eisner Sunday has gathered plenty of attention with its explicit criticism of how Eisner is running the company.
But, given Roy Disney's (and others') failed prior efforts to shame Eisner out of office -- plus the hurdles that appear necessary nowadays to get a CEO dumped -- Mr. Disney's parting shots seem unlikely to fulfill their stated goal of provoking Eisner's departure.
Even so, critics of the media titan aren't giving up so easy. Following Roy Disney's departure, his associate Stanley Gold also left the board, and the two said Monday afternoon they'd urge shareholders to back a change in management at the big Burbank, Calif., company.
Disney's stock -- reflecting investors' hope that Eisner will depart, or their relief that Roy Disney won't be able to heckle him from the close proximity of the boardroom, or simply market noise -- rose 7 cents Monday to trade at $23.16.
Roy Disney's letter, reported Sunday by
The Wall Street Journal
, raises a number of complaints about Eisner's stewardship, none of them surprising to people who have been following the company since its stock descended from the $40-plus levels it traded at three years ago.
As listed in Disney's letter -- which he requested the company file publicly with the
Securities and Exchange Commission
-- these shortcomings include Eisner's failure to rescue the prime time ratings of the Disney-owned ABC television network; his inability to come up with winning programming for the ABC Family Channel; his "consistent micro-management of everyone" around him and a resultant loss of morale; cheaply built theme parks; a creative brain drain; Eisner's refusal to establish a clear succession plan, and "the perception by all our stakeholders ... that the Company is rapacious, soul-less, and always looking for the 'quick buck.' "
Since 1994, Disney wrote, "the Company has lost its focus, its creative energy, and its heritage."
In response to Roy Disney's letter, Disney's board issued a statement attributed to George Mitchell, presiding director. "The Governance and Nominating Committee recently informed Mr. Disney of its judgment that the mandatory age limits of the company's Corporate Governance Guidelines, which had previously been unanimously approved by the Board, should be applied to him and two other Board members, Thomas S. Murphy and Raymond Watson," read the statement. "It is unfortunate that the Committee's judgment to apply these unanimously adopted governance rules has become an occasion to raise again criticisms of the direction of the Company, and calls for change of management, that have been previously rejected by the Board."
While Roy Disney likely achieved some satisfaction from venting his spleen, the likelihood of a more tangible effect at the Walt Disney Co. seems slim.
Last year, according to various press reports, Roy Disney and then-fellow-board member Stanley Gold attempted to drum up further support on the board for their negative opinion of Eisner. Gold stepped down from Disney's board Monday, saying it would be difficult to effect change on the board as it stands.
But the pair's 2002 oust-Eisner effort failed, as evidenced by Eisner's success in rejiggering Disney's board to a form more of his liking. And over the past year, Disney's stock price has risen about 33%. So with the stock price up and Roy off, the strength of Roy Disney's position seems weaker than last year.
It also appears that one needs a little more oomph to a charge -- a little more specific, blatant bad decision -- to push someone out of the CEO job these days. Jerry Levin could still be at
, for example, had the merger with America Online that he was so closely (and correctly) identified with had not turned out to be such an awful one, in hindsight.
Chairman and CEO Phil Condit would not have
resigned Monday had his chief financial officer not made such a scandalous hiring decision. Mere "he coulda done better" doesn't quite suffice for cutting short a more established career.
And, in fact, Eisner has already weathered his share of "gotcha" moments that might have been capitalized upon by dissatisfied shareholders. He sailed through the eyebrow-raising, eye-popping pay stories in the 1990s. He endured a lavish-retirement-perk mini-to-do last year. He's even already endured a disgruntled-former-director story, when the
reported earlier this year that departing director Andrea Van de Kamp accused Eisner of bullying her because she was less than supportive of him.