This week CEO Michael Eisner tells a court his version of how Walt Disney Co. paid a severance package of $140 million to a former close friend after only 14 months at work, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The lawsuit by Disney shareholders has so far cast the company as a bastion of interpersonal subterfuge that would make Mickey Mouse blush. Beyond the severance payout itself, some eight years ago, are very current concerns about Eisner’s tenure. And the story goes beyond the the roller-coaster fortunes of Disney and its boss.
The trial is also helping to settle some questions about the “reality” behind Hollywood dream factories and the balance of power between CEOs and the boards who hire them. “This trial is telling us about the culture of decisionmaking” at Disney at a time when scandals have heightened concerns about corporate governance, says Georg Szalai, business editor of the Hollywood Reporter. So far, the picture doesn’t look pretty. Michael Ovitz, the former company president who got the $140 million payout, testified of Disney colleagues: “They’re not particularly sensitive to human beings.” He recounted projects where chief executive Eisner belittled his ideas from the top and jealous Disney executives undermined him from the bottom. Eventually, Ovitz said, “I guess you could say I got pushed out the sixth-floor window.”