A SIDE TRIP FROM
Yesterland

My Visit to

2012 Annual Meeting of
The Walt Disney Company


in Kansas City, Missouri

I not only write about The Walt Disney Company… I also own the company.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, March 16, 2012


2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

My tickets for Disney’s 2012 Annual Meeting of Shareholders

To be honest, I only own a tiny bit of The Walt Disney Company—38 shares. Hey, at least I own 38 times as much of the company as someone who bought a single share just to have a framed stock certificate with Disney characters on it.

Actually, in the past, there was another reason to buy a single share. Owning even one share made it possible for a family to attend Disney’s annual shareholder meeting, where everyone received free Disneyland tickets.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Kansas City, Missouri

Let’s go back to 1963. The annual meeting was in the screening room on the Walt Disney Productions studio lot in Burbank. The Los Angeles Times reported that the 200 shareholders who attended cheered management, despite a drop in the 1963 first quarter profit:

They applauded when it was announced they would be shown “Son of Flubber,” Disney’s cinema successor to “The Absent Minded Professor,” after the meeting.

They clapped when Donn B. Tatum, vice president for television sales, said they would receive Disneyland courtesy admission tickets (two books with five rides or attractions each) following the meeting.

And they voiced enthusiastic approval when one of their number rose to congratulate management on the company’s record performance in fiscal 1962.

When there are free Disneyland tickets and a free movie screening, the word gets out.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Westin Crown Center Hotel, site of Disney’s 2012 Annual Meeting of Shareholders

The Los Angeles Times reported a much bigger crowd of shareholders in 1971:

About 2,000 shareholders of Walt Disney Productions Inc.—dressed in everything from diapers and tennis shoes to $200 suits—flocked to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the [Los Angeles] Music Center Tuesday to collect Disneyland tickets, hear a few words about 1970 and catch the latest company movie—“Wild Country.”

The pattern of free park tickets and a free movie screening continued. In 1972, the movie was The Biscuit Eater. In 1974, it was Superdad.

The Los Angeles Times reported around 4,000 shareholders—more than capacity of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—at the 1975 annual meeting. The overflow audience watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television next door at Mark Taper Forum. The movie was the original Escape to Witch Mountain.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

“Welcome” message on a giant video monitor at the shareholder information desk

The attendance continued to grow. The 1997 annual meeting was at the Pond in Anaheim, home of the Disney-owned (at the time) Mighty Ducks hockey team. The Los Angeles Times reported that 12,000 Disney shareholders packed the arena, where, once again, free Disneyland tickets were the primary lure:

“About 80% of the people are here for the tickets,” said Marilyn Barger of Upland, adding, “That’s why I came.” Each stockholder and guest got a free pass to Disneyland good for the next three months.

The free tickets weren’t the only lure in 1997. Disgruntled shareholders wanted a chance to complain about Michael Eisner’s $250 million-plus compensation package and the “lovely parting gift” of $96 million given to Eisner’s buddy Michael Ovitz, who was shown the door after slightly more than a year in the number two spot at Disney. The meeting was described as “contentious.”

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Minnie and Mickey by the indoor waterfall at the Westin Crown Center Hotel

Disney management must have decided that playing to an ever-increasing crowd wasn’t such a good idea after all. Traditionally, Disney had held its annual meetings in locations with a significant Disney presence, usually Los Angeles, Anaheim, or Walt Disney World. One rare exception had been Kansas City in 1988.

The 1998 meeting would again be held in Kansas City, officially “in observance of the company’s 75th anniversary and Mickey Mouse’s 70th birthday.” There would be no free Disney theme park tickets handed out to attendees. That practice was now over.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Jeffrey Epstein of D23, best known for his D23’s Disney Geek online video series

It’s 14 years later.

A few months ago, I read that this year’s Disney annual meeting would once again be in Kansas City, after bouncing around other American cities. The date would be Tuesday, March 13. By coincidence, I would be in Kansas City that whole week. I contacted the brokerage firm that holds my stock and requested two tickets for the event.

I thought it would be an interesting experience for my college student daughter and me. It would be my first Disney annual meeting. And while I knew we wouldn’t get free park tickets or a free movie screening, the event itself would be free. How often do you get anything for free from Disney?

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Radio Disney van in the hallway outside the meeting room

Tuesday morning, March 13, we arrived at Westin Crown Center Hotel at 9:00 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. meeting, At the top of the escalator from the lobby, Donald Duck posed for pictures and signed autographs. Later, Mickey and Minnie took over for Donald. Goofy also made an appearance.

D23, “the Official Disney Fan Club,” had a table. It was a chance to meet Jeffrey from D23 and to see the latest issues of Disney twenty-three Magazine. I have to admit that seeing these recent issues made me sorry that I let my D23 membership lapse, which is something I’ll have to reconsider. The Disney Archives team was there too, ready for D23’s Journey to Marceline departing (without me) from Kansas City the next day.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

Proxy voting, available until the close of the business portion of the meeting

A proxy ballot box allowed shareholders to submit last-minute votes for Disney directors and two routine matters that require shareholder approval.

Most attendees headed directly for the queue that led to three walk-through metal detectors and the meeting room entrance. The room had somewhere around a thousand chairs. Probably half the chairs where eventually filled.

The meeting began with a nicely made video about Walt Disney’s connection to Missouri, including his childhood in Marceline, his later childhood in Kansas City, and his pre-Hollywood career in Kansas City.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

There were rules—which explains why there are no photos of the meeting in the article.

I didn’t expect to learn anything new at the meeting. A shareholder meeting is not a forum for announcements about new attractions or movies. And when a shareholder asks a question about something that might happen in the future, the executive who answers will not knowingly disclose a company secret.

Actually, there was an announcement. Disney President and CEO Bob Iger announced Heroes Work Here, a program to provide at least 1,000 jobs throughout the Disney Company for returning U.S. veterans over the next three years.

One part of the Disney meeting was the business portion, necessary to fulfill the legal obligations of holding an annual meeting. The business portion had its own question-and-answer session scheduled. Would there be hard questions about executive compensation or the advisability of Iger taking on the position of Chairman in addition to CEO? Outgoing Disney Chairman John Pepper seemed surprised and pleased that there were no questions at all.

There were movies trailers for Brave from Disney-Pixar and The Avengers from Marvel. There would be no feature shown after the meeting. Such screenings ended long ago.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

No Disneyland tickets—but every attendee received a pin

For the remainder of the meeting, audience members were invited to ask questions. The topics of these questions included the price of parking for Disneyland passholders, misinformation on the Disney pin website, AVATAR Land, opening dates for the New Fantasyland in Florida, Marvel characters at the parks, Star Wars instead of AVATAR, free Disneyland tickets for shareholders attending the meeting, whether the Broadway show Newsies could come to Disney’s Hollywood Studio, the next Kingdom Hearts, whether there could be more than one Pixar movie per year, updating Tomorrowland, and an excellent suggestion about Disney Company support for the historic Laugh-O-Grams Studio in Kansas City.

Regarding the progress of the AVATAR project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Bob Iger replied, “We were fortunate to enter into an agreement with director James Cameron who created AVATAR, and the design work is just beginning. I actually attended a meeting with Jay Rasulo the other day where we got pitched some creative on it. But in all likelihood, we’re not going to open up AVATAR Land until some time in 2015. But Design work is just beginning. Very exciting too.”

In many cases, there was little that Bob Iger or any other executive could say beyond something along the lines of not being personally familiar with it, but having somebody look into it, or that they’re working on things, but have nothing to announce yet.

Every attendee received a 2012 Annual Meeting of Shareholders pin on the way out of the meeting room. It may not be a Disneyland ticket, but it was free.

2012 Annual Meeting of The Walt Disney Company

The video monitor at the shareholder information desk, after the end of the meeting


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Updated September 14, 2012.

All photos by Werner Weiss, March 2012.