By Thomas Buckley | Bloomberg
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger came out swinging at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis saying his policies regarding the theme-park giant have been “not just anti-Florida, but anti-business.”
The executive, who spoke during the company’s annual meeting on Monday, responded to questions from investors about Disney’s political fight in Florida and its decision to oppose legislation that limits discussion of gender identity in schools.
“A company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Iger said.
Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, has increasingly found itself in a fight with conservatives over its policies and the content of some movies and TV shows. The battle has been most apparent in Florida, where the Republican governor and state legislators replaced the board of a municipal district that provides services to the company’s theme parks in the state after Disney opposed the schools legislation.
DeSantis on Monday asked the state’s chief inspector general to investigate “collusive and self-dealing arrangements” passed by the outgoing board of the municipal district before his appointees took over.
Thomas Strobhar, a conservative activist who sponsored a shareholder proposal for greater disclosure of the company’s charitable contributions, said Disney shouldn’t be supporting LGBTQ issues and abortion.
“These policies could alienate possibly millions of our potential customers,” Strobhar said at the meeting. Disney tried to prevent Strobhar’s proposal from appearing on the ballot. The measure failed by a wide margin, according to preliminary results announced at the meeting.
Shareholders largely indicated support for the company and its positions in other ways. Investors reelected all 11 board members, including Nike Inc.’s Mark Parker as Disney’s new chairman.
Shareholders also approved the company’s executive compensation plan, while rejecting other proposals that would have required Disney to disclose more information about its political expenditures and its business in China.
The Burbank, California-based company held its annual meeting virtually, at a time when it’s laying off some 7,000 workers in an efficiency push. Iger addressed the cuts in his comments at the start of meeting on Monday, saying “there is no doubt that we face challenging times, at my core I’m an optimist and I’m incredibly bullish on what the future holds for Disney.”
Iger returned to lead the company after the board fired his successor, Bob Chapek, in November. Iger has been charged with improving Disney’s financial performance after investors fled due to ongoing losses in its streaming TV businesses. He’s also been charged with finding another executive to replace him at the end of his two-year contract.
Disney’s CEO said the company plans to invest $17 billion over the next decade in Florida, a state where it employs some 77,000 people.
The company’s commitment is reflected not just in “how much we’ve invested, but how much we’ve given back,” Iger said.
While he admitted that the company could have handled its position on the school legislation better, Iger likened the company’s stance to Civil Rights-era protests.
“As long as I’m in the job I’m going to be guided by a sense of decency and respect,” he said.