Pompey Takeover: What we know about Michael Eisner

If Michael Eisner goes ahead with his planned takeover of Pompey, he will be the latest in a line of businessmen who have shown an interest in the club.

Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:22 am
Michael Eisner

In his homeland the American billionaire is a household name, having been chairman of the Walt Disney Corporation for more than two decades.

The 75-year-old has also been president of rival movie studio Paramount Pictures and has spent time with other major television networks.

In the States he has often come across as someone with great success in business, but with a reputation for controversial high-profile arguments with colleagues.

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His time at Disney was covered at length by New York Times columnist James B Stewart in his book DisneyWar, which notes well-publicised arguments between Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who resigned in 1994 as his studio chief.

Stewart said there were concerns that Katzenberg had been taking too much credit for Disney’s releases at the start of the 1990s.

In his book Steward described how tensions arose between the two men, with Katzenberg eventually resigning.

In his review of the book for The Guardian, author Jay Parini suggested that Eisner came across as ‘one of the most unlikable people in the entire world’.

He refers to his successes as Disney’s figurehead over 20 years, but also what he described as his ‘screaming fits, lies, back-stabbings and misjudgments’.

Edward Jay Epstein, author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power, said in 2005: ‘Eisner turned a faltering animation-and-amusement park company into one of the world’s most successful purveyors of home entertainment.’

But he also referred to how he ‘alienated a host of would-be moguls’, including Katzenberg.

In an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Eisner was asked about his early life and when he realised TV was something he wanted to pursue.

He said: ‘I’d like to say I had this vision. I was an English major and a pre-med at college. There was a very attractive girl that was in the theatre department; I decided I’d write a play to impress her.

‘I was interested in doing that, that was fun.’

He also spoke about how when he was young, his dad told him to read for two hours every night before he was allowed to watch television.

Speaking about his favourite books, he said: ‘I liked Jack London. This started when I was about five, so I read the things you read in nursery school and kindergarten.

‘When I got older I liked adventure stories, the Hardy Boys, just the stuff that everybody else was reading at that time.

‘I came from Manhattan, and when you’re made to read so you can watch this new technology called television... honestly, to me reading was a kind of chore.

‘Not that I still feel that way, and not that I should have felt that way but, you know, it wasn’t a punishment, but it was a necessity to be able to get done what I wanted to get done.’

After Eisner left Disney for good in 2005, New York Times reporter Laura M Holson said: ‘Under Mr Eisner’s tenure, Disney grew from a small theme-park operator and movie studio into a sprawling media company.

‘In that time, the company added seven theme parks (for a total of 11), a cruise ship line, a successful stage play division and 10 domestic cable channels – including the highly profitable ESPN – and acquired the ABC broadcast network.’

But she added that many of his final years had been marred by a shareholder revolt and a ‘bitter board fight’, where Eisner fought with two former directors who had tried to oust him.

She quoted Richard Nanula, Disney’s former chief financial officer, as saying: ‘Whatever Michael’s faults were, and we all have them, Michael took a moribund company and energized it to a level I’m not sure anyone else could have done.’

Nanula, who worked at the corporation between 1986 and 1998, added: ‘He ensured that Disney provided 10 times the level of entertainment available for children prior to him getting there – high-quality, clean, fun entertainment.’

So what might Pompey fans expect from the club’s potential new owner?

While many have noted his reputation for divisive behaviour with former colleagues, commentators have spoken admirably of his ability to build up and energise a global corporation.

Pompey fans have already had their say, but if a deal appears on the table it will be up to the club’s shareholders to make a final decision.