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Disney member quits board

Los Angeles, Dec. 1 (Reuters): Walt Disney Co said on Sunday it was forcing Roy Disney off the board due to its mandatory retirement age policy, removing the last Disney family member from the board and a prominent critic of chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner.

Clearly stung, Roy Disney said he would go and that Eisner should step down, a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal showed.

The move may be the last act of a showdown between Eisner, who has led the company for nearly 20 years, and the man who recruited him and then became a chief critic.

“It is my sincere belief that it is you who should be leaving and not me,” Roy Disney told Eisner in the letter dated November 30, announcing he was stepping down from the board and his job as head of animation at the company named after his uncle.

George Mitchell, presiding director of the board, said in a statement that Roy Disney and two other directors, Thomas Murphy and Raymond Watson, would have to leave because of the mandatory retirement age, which is 72.

Disney will by 74 by January, when the board is expected to pick a new slate of directors.

The board’s nominating committee, which had waived the retirement age cap in the past, had decided to apply the rule, Mitchell said.

“It is unfortunate that the committee’s judgement to apply these unanimously adopted governance rules has become an occasion to raise again criticisms of the direction of the company, and calls for change of management, that have been previously rejected by the board,” Mitchell added in his statement.

Roy Disney, who led a 1984 restructuring and recruitment of Eisner, cited complaints about Eisner’s leadership, including the performance of Disney’s ABC television networks and its theme parks in the letter.

Disney said company performance had failed in the last seven years under Eisner’s leadership. Other investors echoed Roy Disney’s complains in recent years, but results have improved recently and shares have risen sharply this year.

An associate of Roy Disney who sits on the board, Stanley Gold, was not affected by the age cap. Roy Disney, the nephew of company founder Walt Disney, in August said he struck a deal to sell more than 40 per cent of his stake in the company, in which he was the largest individual shareholder.

Disney will be left with about 10 million shares, or 0.5 per cent of the stock.

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