Marvel CEO brings tensions (and resignations) to Disney*

avengers2.jpgNormally the company buying the other company is the one that takes charge. But when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, it turned out to be the other way around. That's because of Marvel Chief Executive Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter, who as part of the purchase became Disney's second-largest shareholder. In many ways, the acquisition has worked well for the Mouse House - "The Avengers," which features several Marvel characters, is the third-highest grossing feature of all time (behind only "Avatar" and "Titanic"). But Perlmutter has turned out to be a real problem, especially on the merchandising and licensing side. The FT's Matthew Garrahan has a terrific story on Perlmutter's not-so-wonderful management style that has resulted in numerous departures, forced and otherwise. Some snippets:

A battle of loyalties flared in the [Disney Consumer Products] division, where some senior staff had qualified for bonuses in 2011 because of the unit's financial performance. Anne Gates, the chief financial officer of DCP, and Jessica Dunne, head of global product licensing, had run-ins with Mr Perlmutter that were observed by other staff. Ms Gates and Mr Perlmutter clashed over how she compiled financial reports. Mr Perlmutter wanted her to use Marvel's format for spreadsheets, say two people familiar with the matter. "She got verbally abused," says a person with knowledge of the encounter. Ms Dunne later filed a written complaint about Mr Perlmutter regarding a disagreement over an email she sent. Ms Dunne told colleagues she was frightened because Mr Perlmutter, in a rebuke, had allegedly said that he had a "bullet with [her] name on it", according to several people familiar with the matter. "Everyone encouraged her to file a complaint because she was genuinely concerned for her safety," says a former colleague. Ms Dunne declined to comment.


Vanity reigns supreme in Hollywood but Mr Perlmutter has always guarded his privacy assiduously. No public photographs exist of him and he spends most of the year at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. On a rare visit to Hollywood, for the 2008 premiere of Iron Man, he attended in disguise. "He walked right past me and I had no idea it was him," says one person who saw him that night. He can be just as obsessive about saving money - even on stationery. "He used to do this thing in our office that people would laugh at," Avi Arad, a movie producer and longtime associate of Mr Perlmutter, told the FT in 2009, shortly after Disney's purchase of Marvel. "If there was some used paper or a memo lying around he would rip it into eight pieces and he would have a new memo pad." Mr Perlmutter's ability to gain a big bang for each buck appealed to Disney. "One of the main reasons Disney bought Marvel was because it could make a great looking movie for a fraction of the price of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie," says one industry executive, referring to the Pirates of the Caribbean producer who has had a long-term relationship with Disney.

*Hours after the FT posted its piece, the LAT is out with a far more credulous feature about Perlmutter.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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