Time for Eisner to Go?

Has the magic run out for Disney CEO Michael Eisner? Last week, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation's largest pension fund, pulled its support for Eisner, calling his performance "dismal." CalPERS is the 29th single-largest Disney shareholder with 9.9 million shares. New York State's pension fund also said that it would vote against Eisner at today's annual meeting in Philadelphia.

David and Tom Gardner discussed the issue on last week'sMotley Fool Radio Showon NPR.What follows is a transcript of their conversation.

David: The timing of this surprised me because Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) stock, even before the Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) buyout offer a few weeks ago, has outperformed the stock market over the last year and is up almost 50%. So, it's ironic in that this lack of support for Eisner is coming at a time when Disney stock has done pretty well.

Tom: I want to widen the lens a little bit and actually criticize CalPERS, and I guess maybe even criticize you for what you just said. CalPERS, in calling Eisner's performance "dismal," really focused on the last five years of his tenure as the CEO of the company. I think that is too short of a time frame.

David: It was a bear market, for one thing.

Tom: And lots of companies suffered over the last five years, so I think it's unfair to pick on Disney and say, "Wow, their stock is down over the last five years. They are not serving their shareholders." And I don't think looking at the last year is a very good measure either, as it's too short term.

Let's widen the lens 10 years here and look at what Michael Eisner has done. The stock has underperformed the market's average. The man has given himself exorbitant amounts of money. He made an acquisition of Capital Cities in which ABC paid way too much, and that acquisition really hurt Disney shareholders. So, if you look at the last 10 years, I think you have to be as critical as CalPERS has been, and I think that you have to suggest that this business would be better off with a new CEO at the helm.

David: Tom, we were looking it over together earlier and noted that Eisner came to Disney in 1984.

Tom: And I went back and looked at TV Guide to get a sense of how much America has changed. Back in 1984, we were watching Benson and Webster and Diff'rent Strokes, Fall Guy, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Remington Steele, and Hardcastle and McCormick.

David:Hardcastle and McCormick on Sunday nights.

Tom: Now, the world has changed and that is not to say that people can't adapt over a 20-year period, but I think it is clear that Michael Eisner is a heavyweight boxer who is overpaid now for mediocre performance.

David: Are you saying he is George Foreman?

Tom: I think George Foreman may have a little bit more in that uppercut than even Michael Eisner.

For a different perspective on the embattled CEO, see Rick Munarriz'sThe Case for Eisner.

David and Tom Gardner are co-founders of The Motley Fool and share great stock ideas each month inStock Advisor. David owns shares of Disney.


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