Disney Meets Investors Ahead of Major Board Meeting Thu Sep 12, 8:50 PM ET LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Top executives of the Walt Disney Co. met with investors in New York on Thursday, courting Wall Street backing ahead of a crucial board meeting where the struggling media giant will map out a strategy to put the company back on a growth path. The day of meetings hosted by Disney chief Michael Eisner and Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs will be followed by a second day of meetings on Friday. That charm offensive comes ahead of a meeting organized for next Tuesday by gadfly shareholder Providence Capital, in which the tone could become more contentious as institutional shareholders are invited to air their grievances and frustrations with Disney management. The flurry of activity will be followed the next week by a Sept. 23 Disney board meeting, where corporate governance issues, a succession plan for Eisner and the company's strategic plan for the next few years are expected to be on the agenda, according to sources with knowledge of the planning process. Observers and insiders believe the meeting will be a seminal one for the struggling Disney, whose stock is trading at lows not seen since the early 1990s amid weakness in its core theme park and broadcast businesses. Eisner's attendance at the two days of New York meetings this week reflects how seriously he takes Wall Street's recent concerns about the company, observers said. "It's not that unusual, but it's not that common either" for Eisner to attend investor meetings, said Prudential Securities analyst Katherine Styponias. She added that the New York meetings, like others before them, are expected to be largely question-and-answer affairs. Styponias said that historically Disney has tended to hold more meetings with investors when its stock price was low, and fewer when shares were doing well. The company's stock closed down 68 cents, or 4.2 percent, in Thursday trading at $15.50, off its low of about $13.50 reached in mid-August but still well below its heights of just two years ago when shares traded as high as nearly $44. "They seem to have increased their communication with the Street pretty significantly in the last few months," Styponias said. "Every time they're in town for other reasons, they seem to carve out some time to see investors as well." MAKING VIEWS KNOWN In the run-up to the board meeting, a wide array of stakeholders and observers -- from mom-and-pop shareholders to academics, financial analysts and institutional shareholders -- have been sounding off the struggling entertainment giant and what it must do to right itself. Providence Capital became the latest of those on Wednesday when it announced it will convene its own meeting next week for shareholders to air their views. Providence, which has a small investment in Disney, said the purpose of the meeting was to "provide a forum for Disney's major shareholders to discuss their views on a number of critical issues which have undermined investor confidence in Disney stock." Pete Fader, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said it is time for Eisner to resign. "Eisner has done great things for the company," Fader said in a recent school publication. "But he's not really the right man for it anymore." Styponias said she plans to attend both the analysts meeting on Friday, as well as the Providence meeting next week. "Some of the topics of interest to me are corporate governance, and what changes we might expect," she said. In recent months, Disney has said it would take steps to ensure that independent board members do not have conflicts of interest that would compromise their independence and said that it would cut the number of directors from the current 16. But while that talk is reassuring, what will ultimately matter to the investors whose concerns Disney is trying to ease is the bottom line, Styponias said. Disney's earnings per share as tracked by Thomson First Call have fallen for the past four quarters and are expected to fall in the current quarter from a year earlier as well. "You can talk to investors until you're blue in the face," she said. "But until (business improves), you're not going to go anywhere."