Ignoring Ovitz's 'Vision' Cost Disney Dear, Court Told

14 January 2005

"Big visions" and "meat and potatoes" punctuated a day of mixed metaphors at Delaware chancery court where Walt Disney Company directors are being pursued by shareholders.

The verbal imagery came courtesy of lawyer Larry Feldman, a big hitter hired by Michael Ovitz as an expert witness.

He told the court Ovitz was "a man that had big visions. He was not a meat-and-potatoes kind of person" and could have cooked up extravagant amounts of cash for his former employer if only his deals had not been put on the back burner by his boss, Michael Eisner.

Ceo Eisner hired his long-time friend as president of the company in 1995 then fired him fourteen months later with a "no cause" severance package worth $140m (€105m, £74m).

The golden goodbye is at the heart of the lawsuit. Disney shareholders claim Ovitz should have been sacked for alleged deception and ethical breaches, thus denying him the money, which they now want returned with interest.

As evidence of Ovitz' potential dealmaking wizardry, Feldman cited the ex-Hollywood uber agent's advice to buy Putnam Publishing for around $300 million. But would they listen? No. The company is now worth around $1 billion, said Feldman.

Ovitz reportedly negotiated a $85m to $90m dispute settlement with former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. But would they listen? No. The company ended up paying out more than $250m, Feldman emoted.

Shareholders' lawyers say there is no documentary proof of Ovitz's visionary genius but plenty of evidence of his "ill-advised" efforts.

The case continues.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff