Don't forget to tune in.
Date: Wednesday, March 03 @ 01:34:31 EST
Topic: Soapbox

The annual shareholders' meeting of The Walt Disney Company (DIS) will be available live via webcast at the Investor Relations' Web site beginning at 10:00 a.m. EST on Mar. 3, 2004. A re-play will be provided through Wed., Mar. 10, 2004 at 5:00 p.m. PST. Speaking of which, Roy and Stanley held their premeeting rally. Here's the report.

They were young and old. They came from near and far. A few wore mouse ears and snapped photos like tourists on vacation. Some were curious onlookers, but most were angry shareholders of Walt Disney Co.

On the eve of Disney's annual shareholder meeting, several hundred people gathered Tuesday at a rally organized by two dissident former directors to voice their concerns about the venerable entertainment giant and call for the ouster of its longtime leader, Michael Eisner. Hundreds more were turned away, unable to enter the crowded hotel conference room.

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Source: (it has a few pictures)

The crowd gave a standing ovation to Roy Disney, nephew of the company's co- founder, when he took the stage. Flanked by two banners proclaiming "Restore the Magic," the former Disney director rallied the crowd and repeated his calls for Eisner's dismissal.

At one point, he compared Eisner's departure to the death of the Wicked Witch in the "Wizard of Oz" movie. Later, Roy Disney jokingly added, "if we had enough rifles we'd have this thing over with."

Since resigning from Disney's board late last year, Roy Disney and fellow dissident director Stanley Gold have waged a bitter campaign against Eisner and called on investors to withhold their support for his election at Wednesday's meeting. The dissidents have gained momentum recently as several large public pension funds have said they won't vote for Eisner's election. Disney's entire board is up for re-election and its nominees are running unopposed.

The company is bracing for a large protest vote. Disney President Bob Iger held a brief press conference across the street from the dissident meeting. Standing among 75 giant statues of Mickey Mouse, Iger defended the company's leadership and recent financial performance, saying the company had been the target of a "campaign of misinformation and distortion."

But the sentiment at the dissident investor meeting was unequivocal. Perhaps, it was best summed up by Kellyn Ligget, a 15-year-old shareholder from Newport, Pa. "We need new blood in the board of directors," she said, wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Eisner "has been there too long."

Jim Urie, who runs a community art center in Minneapolis, spent three days driving 1,200 miles to attend the meeting and log his protest vote. Like others at the meeting, the longtime shareholder said he's most concerned about the " short-term exploitation of Disney properties" and a perceived decline in quality at its theme parks.

Jim Paradis, a certified public accountant, and his wife said they drove six hours from Manchester, N.H., to be part of the management "coup." Paradis said the current management seems more interested in "gimmicks than quality." He added, "Eisner has to go."

During a question and answer session, the former director Gold predicted a " substantial" number of votes would be withheld for Eisner's election at Wednesday's meeting. He said the vote would send a "loud signal of disapproval" to Eisner and the Disney board and called on the audience to keep up their activism after Wednesday's meeting.

Gold said there is a "short list of five to ten people" who could replace Eisner, but he declined to identify any. However, he did say the Iger should not be considered as a potential successor, saying he has failed to turn around ABC network's prime-time performance. When asked at the press conference whether he would be a potential successor, Iger declined to answer saying it was a " preposterous question."

But Aaron Benjamin said he's willing to take the job. The New York University film student and Disney shareholder said he and Eisner share the same birthday later this month. "It's time to revamp everything. He's got to go," Benjamin said. "He's going to be 62, I'm going to be 23."

This article comes from Toonami Infolink

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