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Alex Stroup, Editor

Philadelphia Freedom

Roy Disney and Stanley Gold hold spirited rally day before shareholder meeting

Wednesday, March 3, 2004
by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer


Update, March 3: Disney shareholders exceed all analyst predictions as Michael Eisner receives an unprecedented 43.3 percent vote of no confidence at the Walt Disney Company's annual shareholder meeting held in Philadelphia Wednesday. Stay tuned tomorrow for our on-scene coverage from editor Mark Goldhaber. Join our many discussions on this topic in our Business of Magic forum on our MousePad discussion board.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — By their unprecedented show of support, one might have wondered if they were Presidential candidates stumping for votes on Super Tuesday. Instead, the crowd was the Disney faithful—over 1,500 of them—who lined up to hear Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold speak at a rally in a ballroom at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel yesterday afternoon.

The lines snaked down from the top of the wide staircase, out the door, down the block, around the corner, and up the next block. And when the ballroom filled to capacity after accommodating only half of those in line and after an additional 200 were directed to an adjacent overflow room, 500 to 600 more found themselves left out in the cold.

According to John Grimaldi of the Save Disney campaign, when Roy Disney heard that there were people who could not make it inside, he decided, much to the dismay of his security detail, to go outside to greet and thank the supporters himself.


The line of shareholders fills the stairway and the street, all the way around the corner and up the block. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Meanwhile, back in the ballroom, guests were treated to a speech by Stanley Gold, a humorous slideshow presentation of old Disneyland photos, a financial presentation by Mike McConnell (Managing Director of Shamrock Holdings, Roy's investment company), a speech by Roy Disney, and a question-and-answer period with Gene Krieger (Vice Chairman of Shamrock Holdings) reading questions posed by the audience to a panel of Disney, Gold, and Mike McConnell.


Save Disney banners greet shareholders in the ballroom. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Roy Disney, who was greeted with a standing ovation, gave his thoughts on what he would like to see happen to the company.

“There's a pretty long list of changes we'd all like to see. For instance, I think the short list would include management. We know that for sure,” Disney said, “Improving the cleanliness, the maintenance and the guest services in the parks, and that would include putting the smile back on the faces of both cast members and our guests.”

The audience broke into wild applause.


“Improving the cleanliness, the maintenance and the guest services in the parks, and that would include putting the smile back on the faces of both cast members and our guests.”


“Making better movies and television shows, especially in feature animation. Fixing the ABC Network and dragging it out of its perennial fourth place. Being better corporate citizens of the country and the world, and to just plain being Disney again,” said Disney.


The contents of the shareholder gift bag include a T-shirt, notebook, pen, bumper sticker, button, and cloisonné pin. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

During the question-and-answer session, while again refusing to name any of the “short list of five to 10 candidates” who could be potential successors to Michael Eisner, Stanley Gold stated that the characteristics that would be necessary for success would be a person who understood, appreciated, and could interact with creativity, and someone who had strategic vision.


The crowd once again broke into great applause when Gold said that he and Disney believe that the jobs of Chairman and CEO should be separated, and that neither should be Michael Eisner.


The crowd once again broke into great applause when Gold said that he and Disney believe that the jobs of Chairman and CEO should be separated, and that neither should be Michael Eisner.


A full house in the ballroom greets Roy Disney with a standing ovation. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The rally energized the crowd, which included both local and out-of-town shareholders.

Disney, Gold, and McConnell answered questions at the front of the ballroom at the conclusion of the rally while most of the crowd filtered out.

The rally was followed by a reception, where Disney and Gold met with supporters in a room decorated with drawings depicting Roy Disney coming to the rescue of the Mouse House. Large displays of food and an open bar fed the masses, while a piano player performed a medley of Disney tunes.


The post-rally reception room is decorated with pro-Roy Disney drawings. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Meanwhile, during the reception, the Christian Action Network was hosting a reception of their own, passing out kits including buttons that said “Oust Michael Eisner” and “I Support Roy Disney.” However, they also distributed “Stop Disney Gay Days!” buttons as well as a CD with their video, Gay Day at Disney Gone Wild—and while Disney and Gold probably appreciate any increase in the withhold vote generated by this tactic, it was uncertain whether they felt comfortable being associated with this group.

The entire event was well orchestrated, delivering a positive buzz to the supporters, while managing not to really reveal any new information from the Save Disney team.


Roy Disney works the crowd at the reception following the rally. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

And yet, while this is a story about restoring magic to a beloved company, it is as much—if not more—international business news. At a press conference yesterday morning covered by the global press, Disney and Gold answered questions, not revealing much that was not already available on the SaveDisney.com Web site.


One new piece of information, quelling some Internet rumors, came when Gold specifically stated that they had had no contact with Comcast and had not discussed the bid with them.


One new piece of information, quelling some Internet rumors, came when Gold specifically stated that they had had no contact with Comcast and had not discussed the bid with them. In fact, not discussing the Comcast situation seemed to be the order of the day. Each question asked about Comcast was deflected by Gold, stating that they did not wish to discuss any possible Comcast scenarios until their mission to remove Michael Eisner was accomplished, or there was a new offer from Comcast.

In discussing the shareholder vote at the annual meeting, Gold said, “We think that a 15 to 20 percent vote, a withhold vote—a vote of no confidence—is very important. Anything over 20 percent would be very impressive.”


Roy Disney and Stanley Gold answer questions at the morning press conference. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

When asked if they would propose an alternate slate of directors next year if the withhold-vote level reaches 35 percent this year, Gold said, “I don't want to predict what we're going to do a year from today, but let me be candid with you. We're not going away until Mr. Eisner is gone. We'll be here next week, next month, next year, whatever it takes. We don't believe that he's capable of running this company anymore.”


“We're not going away until Mr. Eisner is gone… We don't believe that he's capable of running this company anymore.”


Roy Disney added, “I think if Michael Eisner weren't with the company, we could make a deal with Pixar in a matter of weeks.”


Jim Hill is interviewed by Reuters. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

In what was a refreshing change in the corporate world, questions from the nontraditional (Internet) media were addressed on a par with those from the mainstream press, as Jim Hill Media and MousePlanet questions were taken and deflected. Following the meeting, representatives from Jim Hill Media, MousePlanet, and LaughingPlace were interviewed by other media looking for more insights into the story.

Today is the all-important annual shareholders meeting. And Roy Disney will have 15 precious minutes to address the assembly there.

The media—online and otherwise—will be watching.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mark here.


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