In 2022, an activist investor backed by the billionaire chief of Marvel Entertainment targeted Disney, saying it needed to cut costs. That Marvel leader, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, also happened to be a Disney employee after Disney bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, and was the visionary executive who had established Marvel Studios as the future of Hollywood with 2008’s Iron Man, kicking off a decade-plus of superhero dominance at the box office.
On Wednesday, Disney fired Perlmutter via phone as part of cost-cutting measures, the New York Times reported. Marvel Entertainment, which sells consumer products and operates independently of production company Marvel Studios, will be folded into larger Disney units, the Times said, citing anonymous sources. Perlmutter’s co-president, Rob Steffens, and chief counsel John Turitzin, were also laid off. Marvel Entertainment president Dan Buckley will stay and report to the chief of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige.
Disney and Marvel Studios did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.
The layoff of Perlmutter comes days after Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the company would cut 7,000 staff amid financial difficulties and rising costs. To be sure, layoffs have been mounting in many industries recently, but few of those have touched top executives.
Perlmutter’s complicated relationship with Iger
Perlmutter, 80, has been a part of Marvel since the 1990s and at the much larger Disney for over a decade. He is also a large Disney shareholder, with a nearly 1% stake worth $2.4 billion.
Perlmutter’s recent vocal support of activist investor Nelson Peltz, who had campaigned for a seat on Disney’s board, put Perlmutter in an uncomfortable position. Peltz has pressured Disney to cut costs, revamp parts of the company, and create a CEO succession plan. Between August and November 2022, Perlmutter made six calls to Disney’s board and senior executives to press for Peltz’s case, according to SEC filings earlier this year.
For its part, Disney has rejected Peltz’s push for a board seat. In January, Disney said the activist investor “lacks the skills and experience” to be on its board and that he had failed to offer any strategic ideas to help the company.
Last month, Peltz ended his proxy battle after Iger announced a cost-cutting plan, Peltz’s investment management firm Trian Partners told the New York Times.
Even before the activist tussles, Iger had a complicated relationship with Perlmutter. When Iger was chief between 2005 and 2020, he would often communicate with Perlmutter through his short-lived successor, Bob Chapek, due to the tension between them, the Financial Times reported in January, citing former employees.
Since Disney bought Marvel, Perlmutter’s responsibilities have steadily shrunk—he had no real role in Marvel’s movie and TV production business. He also had a reputation for frugality and a history of vetoing projects involving women or people of color as leads, landing him in the crosshairs with Marvel studios’ boss, Feige. In 2015, Iger’s reshuffling of Marvel Studios under Walt Disney Studios, further diminished Perlmutter’s control over creative decisions and budgets in the movie segment.
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