Walt Disney ousts Marvel chair Isaac Perlmutter after he clashed with CEO Bob Iger

Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, the billionaire who sold Marvel to Disney in 2009 and had clashed with the company’s chief executive Bob Iger, has been ousted as the entertainment group embarks on thousands of job cuts.

Perlmutter’s $4bn sale of Marvel was transformative for Disney, which has turned it into one of the most enviable franchises in entertainment history with blockbusters including The Avengers and Iron Man. But he was also considered difficult to work with, leading to disputes with Iger and other Disney executives, said current and former executives.

Over the past year he also used his significant shareholding to back an effort by activist investor Nelson Peltz to gain a seat on Disney’s board, putting him in contention with Iger, who resisted the push.

Peltz backed down in February after Iger announced plans to cut costs and eventually reinstate the dividend, which had been suspended during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Iger has had a tense relationship with Perlmutter. In 2015, Iger reorganised Marvel to allow film producer Kevin Feige to report to the head of the Disney studio rather than the Marvel chair — a move that is said to have outraged Perlmutter.

That reorganisation also left Perlmutter with a smaller role as chair of Marvel Entertainment, a unit with a few hundred employees overseeing comic book publishing and consumer products.

The comics division will now be overseen by Disney Entertainment group, while consumer products will be folded into another unit as part of a restructuring. Other Marvel executives are also losing their jobs.

In February, Iger told CNBC that Perlmutter had been “intent on firing” Feige at the time. After Iger stepped in to block the move, Perlmutter “was not happy about it”, Iger said, adding: “I think that unhappiness exists today.”

As Marvel president, Feige has overseen the release of some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, including Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther.

This week, Iger started the process of cutting about 7,000 jobs at the company in an effort to save about $5.5bn. Since his return as Disney chief executive, he has stressed the need to reach profitability at its streaming operations by next year. He has said he plans to slash $3bn from content budgets and $2.5bn in other costs.

In a 2019 book on his tenure at Disney, Iger described Perlmutter as “a legendarily tough, reclusive character” and as having a reputation for being “penurious to the extreme”. But while he acknowledged having “disagreements” with Perlmutter, he “respected where he’d come from in his life”.

Perlmutter, who made a fortune as an investor in distressed assets, began working with Marvel in the mid-1990s, when he controlled Toy Biz, a company that owned the exclusive licence to produce toys based on Marvel’s characters.

After the group went into bankruptcy, Perlmutter fended off Carl Icahn and other investors to gain control of Marvel.