Disney Lays Off Ike Perlmutter, Chairman of Marvel Entertainment

Isaac Perlmutter, the famously frugal Marvel Entertainment chairman who unsuccessfully worked to shake up the Walt Disney Company’s board in the past year, has been laid off as part of a cost-cutting campaign.

Disney confirmed the move. Mr. Perlmutter, 80, was told by phone on Wednesday that Marvel Entertainment, a small division centered on consumer products and run separately from Marvel Studios, was redundant and would be folded into larger Disney business units, according to two Disney executives briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter.

On Monday, Disney started to eliminate 7,000 jobs, about 4 percent of its global total, as part of $5.5 billion in cuts intended to improve Disney’s financial results and position the company for streaming-fueled growth.

Mr. Perlmutter, known as Ike, could not immediately be reached for comment.

An irascible and unrelenting executive, Mr. Perlmutter has been seen as a distraction inside Disney for more than a decade — most recently when he pushed for a friend, the activist investor Nelson Peltz to join the Disney board. Mr. Perlmutter contacted Disney board members and senior Disney executives six times from last August to November to push for Mr. Peltz to join the board, according to a securities filing. When he was rebuffed, Mr. Peltz started a proxy battle to put himself on the board, saying he would cut costs, revamp Disney’s streaming business and clean up the company’s messy succession planning.

Mr. Peltz withdrew in February, when Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, unveiled a restructuring and the cost cuts, along with the likely restoration of Disney’s dividend.

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Since then, Mr. Perlmutter’s future at Disney has been a topic of water cooler debate inside the company, with most employees concluding that his days were numbered. On Wednesday, Disney also laid off Rob Steffens, co-president of Marvel Entertainment, and John Turitzin, chief counsel for the division.

A Disney spokesman confirmed the job eliminations at Marvel Entertainment, but declined to comment further.

Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Entertainment, will remain and report to Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. Previously, Mr. Buckley reported both to him and Mr. Perlmutter.

Mr. Perlmutter sold Marvel to Disney in 2009 for $4 billion. He gained control of the superhero company in the late 1990s and greatly expanded its merchandising business by licensing properties like X-Men and Spider-Man to movie studios.

Mr. Perlmutter’s involvement with Marvel as a whole has greatly diminished over the years. He has not been involved with Marvel movies since 2015, when a feud with Mr. Feige over costs related to “Doctor Strange” boiled over. (Mr. Perlmutter wanted to fire Mr. Feige; Mr. Iger overruled him.) Mr. Perlmutter lost oversight of Marvel television shows in 2019.

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By the end, Mr. Perlmutter’s job was limited to businesses like comics publishing, which generates $40 million to $60 million in sales annually, according to analysts. (To contextualize, Disney had about $83 billion in total revenue in 2022.) He was also involved in Marvel game licensing, certain consumer products and superhero arena shows. Marvel Entertainment was based in New York.

Disney arguably allowed Mr. Perlmutter to keep a fief long after it made financial sense to do so. He is a significant Disney shareholder, and there was a sense of obligation: Without him, Disney would not have Marvel.

Mr. Perlmutter’s zealousness for corporate frugality in service of profit is well known in the entertainment business. In one particularly vivid example, he used to pluck paper clips out of garbage cans at Marvel offices for reuse. People at Marvel still talk about the time he suggested serving potato chips at a movie premiere to save catering costs.

To closely monitor activities at Marvel offices, Mr. Perlmutter at one point installed at least 20 cameras. Disney ripped them out several years ago. His effort to have a say in Marvel movies continued, however. Last fall, he demanded financial information related to Mr. Feige’s operation and questioned the decision to spend $200 million to make the sequel “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” (That film ended up taking in $956 million worldwide.)

Mr. Perlmutter’s soreness over Mr. Iger’s decision to take away oversight of Marvel moviemaking has also been well known. In February, when Disney thwarted the proxy battle, Mr. Iger appeared on CNBC and was asked about Mr. Perlmutter’s involvement in the shake-up effort. Did a feud perhaps fuel it?

“Well, you’d have to ask Ike about that,” Mr. Iger said. “But let’s put it this way: He was not happy about it. And I think that unhappiness exists today.”

Differing political views heightened the tension. Mr. Perlmutter supported Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns for president and recently signaled he would support the Trump campaign in 2024. Mr. Iger is a Democrat who has been vocal about using Disney movies as vehicles for progressive values.

On Monday, Mr. Iger told Disney employees in an email that layoffs would come in three waves, with the first happening this week. More substantial job eliminations will occur in April, with a final group “before the beginning of summer.”

Along with Marvel Entertainment, areas affected this week have included cable television production and content acquisition. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Disney also eliminated a 50-person metaverse division dedicated to “next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences,” none of which had yet come to fruition.

Shutting down the nascent metaverse effort was notable because the division had been created with fanfare by Bob Chapek, who was fired in November as Disney’s chief executive. Mr. Iger came out of retirement to retake the company’s reins.

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