Billionaire investor Mario Gabelli: Disney CEO Bob Iger is actually underpaid

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Disney CEO Bob Iger, who has helmed the company since 2005, made $65.6 million in salary in 2018.

Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Roy Disney and grandniece of Walt Disney, called that figure “insane” at a Fast Company conference last week.

“When he got his bonus last year, I did the math, and I figured out that he could have given personally, out of pocket, a 15% raise to everyone who worked at Disneyland, and still walked away with $10 million,” said Disney. “There’s a point at which there’s just too much going around the top of the system into this class of people who—I’m sorry this is radical—have too much money.”

But GAMCO CEO Mario Gabelli, the legendary value investor, disagrees. In fact, he thinks Iger is “underpaid.”

“Bob Iger is a bargain,” Gabelli said on Yahoo Finance when asked about Abigail Disney’s comments. “I don’t understand how people look at numbers, they just don't get it. And then he's paying, in the state of California, he is paying 55% of his current income in taxes. That's higher than he's ever paid in his life. This is fantastic. He's helping the state fight pollution and so on.”

Iger has done extremely well for Disney

Gabelli wouldn’t be the first to argue that a highly paid executive is worth it. And The Walt Disney Company, in a response to Abigail Disney’s comment, noted that Iger’s 80% pay raise in 2018 (up from $36.3 million in 2017) was tied to performance and a stock grant from Disney’s acquisition of Fox.

Iger has steered Disney through a slew of acquisitions that have made the Mouse House the preeminent box office powerhouse: the $7.4 billion purchase of Pixar in 2006; $4 billion for Marvel in 2009; $4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012; and this year the $71 billion Fox deal. Disney’s stock price is up 305% since he took over as CEO.

Disney's Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger attends the opening event of Disney-Pixar Toy Story Land, the seventh themed land in Shanghai Disneyland in Shanghai, China April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

Gabelli: Disney and Netflix both well poised in streaming wars

Gabelli also gave his take on the streaming wars, a raging business battle Disney is diving into with its Disney+ service launching Nov. 12, and a space Disney is already in through its majority ownership of Hulu and its ESPN+ service, which launched one year ago.

“Give to the consumer what they want, at a low price, and wherever they want, on whatever device, and content is king,” Gabelli says. “That's what Hastings has done with Netflix. They have early mover advantage, low price. Disney's got scale and they've got critical mass, and the Fox content library... I think Disney will do quite well over the next 10 years. I don't know who's going to run it. But Netflix is going to be a challenge to overcome.”

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance and closely covers streaming tech. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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