In Bob Iger’s first annual shareholder meeting since reclaiming the role of CEO, he had to answer for some of his predecessor’s decisions. Shareholders from Florida, Nevada and New York voiced their concerns about the company’s tainted relationship with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and its stance against anti-LGBTQ legislation in the state—both issues that former CEO Bob Chapek played a role in materializing. The shareholder meeting took place virtually today (April 3).
Following Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill passing in the state House and Senate last year, Chapek—Disney (DIS)’s then-CEO—condemned the legislation in a 2022 shareholder meeting. The bill, which DeSantis later passed, forbade discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation among certain grade levels in schools. In response to Chapek’s criticism, Florida lawmakers voted to end Disney’s status as a special purpose district, which allowed the company to function as an independent government in Florida for more than 50 years. Ron DeSantis’s hand-picked board overseeing Disney’s district is now preparing a legal battle against the company over the board’s alleged inability to effectively manage the district due to actions Disney took to reclaim power, the Orlando Sentinel reported on March 29. The governor also today ordered an investigation into the board that previously oversaw Disney’s district for “self-dealing” and other “ethical violations.”
In the meeting, Alan Frisher, a shareholder in Florida who works as a financial advisor at Ameriprise Financial Services, voiced his concerns about how Disney will protect shareholder value in light of the legal issues between DeSantis and Disney. Companies have a right to freedom of speech, Iger responded, asserting that it is wrong for the governor to punish a company that provides more than 75,000 jobs and 50 million visitors to the state each year. The action is “anti-business and anti-Florida,” he said.
DeSantis, a Republican, has reportedly indicated he intends to run for president in 2024, which could hurt Disney in the long run, Frisher told the Observer.
Disney has found itself involved in various social and political affairs in recent years. In addition to the fallout from Chapek’s “Don’t Say Gay” criticism, Disney has received backlash for depicting LGBTQ characters in its films. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Disney told employees it would help pay for “pregnancy-related care” for workers that had to travel out of state to obtain abortions. Disney has also donated to various politicians and political organizations working to limit abortion care in the state.
The company is now trading 30 percent lower than its pre-Covid numbers and 87 percent below its 2021 peak.
Bob Iger responds to claims Disney has a political agenda
Some of these issues arose in the shareholder meeting. An investor from Nevada questioned if Disney should take stances on political issues when it can be “detrimental to the company,” he said. Another from New York said Disney has turned from a place of magic to a company that is grooming children to LGBTQ ideals.
“As long as I’m in the job, I’m going to be guided by decency and respect,” Iger said. “When we weigh in, it’s because it’s truly relevant to the business and the people.” Disney also seeks to tell stories that reflect “the world around us,” he added, addressing the latter shareholder’s concern.
Iger was asked some difficult questions, and he didn’t blow them off, said Frisher. “It made me feel good that there’s a leader who will answer the tough questions,” he said.