Isaac Perlmutter: mild-mannered business superhero

The sale of Marvel's comic-book empire to Disney has landed publicity-shy Isaac Perlmutter with a $1.4bn payday.

Isaac 'Ike' Perlmutter, Manhattan's newest billionaire, kept a low profile in the wake of Walt Disney's $4bn deal to buy the Marvel comic-book empire, of which he is head. Few were surprised, says The Sunday Times. The "mysterious stranger pulling the strings behind Marvel's stable of superheroes" is so shy of publicity that he tends to turn up to movie premieres in disguise. The fake moustache and glasses ensemble he donned for the premier of Iron Man was so effective that not even close friends recognised him.

It was in 1996 that Perlman, 66, and his partner, fellow Israeli Avi Arad, swooped in to rescue Marvel from oblivion. In doing so, they managed to out-manoeuvre two of Wall Street's most feared deal-makers: Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn. That David and Goliath battle led to an extraordinary turnaround that saw Marvel transformed from a worn-out publisher to the entertainment goldmine behind blockbusters such as Spiderman and X-Men. Quite a feat for an unknown businessman, with no interest in comics or movies, who arrived in America with just $250 in his pocket.

What little we know of Perlmutter's early years comes from the more extrovert Arad, a motorbike-loving movie buff by far the more approachable half of this "classic good-cop, bad-cop pairing", says BusinessWeek. The duo didn't meet until both were established in the US, but they share a similar background. Born into families of meagre means, they both fought in the 1967 Six Year War before taking their chances in America.

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There, however, the similarities end. "Ike is all elbows and Avi all charm." Perlmutter shuns the trappings of wealth his only known indulgence is playing tennis. "His mind is always in gear and going on to the next thing," a colleague told the FT. "He likes to observe and absorb what is happening around him without necessarily standing out. He's the kind of guy you wouldn't notice in a room."

Perlmutter's entrepreneurial streak was evident from his early days in New York. He would stand outside Jewish cemeteries in Brooklyn, touting for work leading services in Hebrew. Later progressing to selling toys and beauty products on the street, he taught himself how to read a balance sheet and made his first fortune selling surplus goods in "dollar store" outlets.

Sniffing out distressed businesses was a speciality: he once owned a controlling interest in Victor Kiam's electric razor manufacturer Remington Products. But he was always most at home in the toy market. He first encountered Arad a toy designer during a scrap over royalty payments. In 1990, they teamed up to run Toy Biz and struck a deal with Marvel's then owner Perelman to sell action figures based on Marvel characters. When bad financial bets and hubristic expansion schemes got Marvel into trouble, they pounced.

Some say Perlmutter's shyness is partly explained by his thick Israeli accent. But he'll have to get used to more scrutiny now that he's running Marvel for Disney. Still, there are compensations, says The Sunday Times. The sale lands him with a $1.4bn payday: enough to "cover the cost of disguises for the rest of his life".

Disney takeover of Marvel could yield heroic profits

Twitter was ablaze with anger after Mickey Mouse swooped on Marvel and made off with its muscle-bound heroes, notes Dominic Rushe in The Sunday Times. Aficionados don't want to see Donald Duck getting mixed in with The Hulk, or baby versions of Marvel's characters. But, outside the fanboy community, Disney's $4bn bid for the Marvel empire looks like "a smart, if very expensive bet on the new Age of Heroes".

Disney already has a tight hold of the tweenage girl market with hits such as Hannah Montana and High School Musical. The gaping hole, which Marvel fills, is access to "hard-to-reach young males". The deal could yield billions for Disney if it can turn Marvel's 5,000-strong library of comic characters into movies, internet properties, video games and merchandise.

Maybe, says Matthew Garrahan in the FT, but Hollywood's history of trying to combine rival studios "is littered with clashes and failures". What's more, many of Marvel's most lucrative characters including Spiderman and X-Men are already tied up in deals, yielding billions for rival studios Sony and Fox. Still, analysts draw comfort from the fact that Spiderman's "guardian angels", Perlmutter and Arad, are being retained at Disney.

As the success of Iron Man shows, they have a knack of breathing new life into vintage characters. And the studio has landed quite a street-fighter in Perlmutter, who has always majored on "his own brand of frugal deal making to Hollywood". In straitened times, it's handy to have a hardliner who refuses to pay vast salaries to actors. Perlmutter may now be a mogul of enormous wealth, notes one colleague. "But he knows the value of a buck."