For a lurid glimpse into life in the executive suite, you can’t do better than the testimony in the shareholder lawsuit against Disney over the short, expensive tenure of Michael Ovitz. Shareholders accuse Disney’s directors of botching their oversight of Ovitz’s hiring and firing as the company’s No. 2, and want $200 million — Ovitz’s $140 million severance, plus interest. They claim Ovitz was so grossly incompetent that he should have been fired for cause, and gotten no severance package. Witnesses for the plaintiffs have testified that Ovitz was utterly unprepared for a top job at a public company, and that he spent $2 million to renovate his office, and another $6 million on expenses. Disney chairman Michael Eisner called him a “psychopath” in an email.
In his defense, Ovitz testified that Eisner, his close friend of 25 years, turned on him immediately upon his arrival at the company, thwarting, second-guessing, and failiing to support him at every turn. Rival senior executives, he said, greeted him by refusing to report to him; he was left out of meetings and undercut by colleagues.
It all makes you wonder: Was Ovitz the hire from hell, or did he walk into the job from hell? Either way, the trial is more entertaining than anything Disney’s studios have put out in years.