For a billionaire who avoids attention, Ike Perlmutter has an outsize influence on popular culture.
Perlmutter, the billionaire chairman of Marvel Entertainment, drove the transformation of the company from a bankrupt comic-book publisher to media powerhouse whose superhero movies have generated billions upon billions in the worldwide box office.
Perlmutter’s success story hasn’t been without friction, however. He has been criticized for his brash management style, intense frugality, and personal relationship with President Donald Trump that yielded him heavy influence at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A representative of Perlmutter at Marvel declined Business Insider’s request or comment on the billionaire’s personal history, net worth, and lifestyle.
Keep reading to learn more about how Perlmutter makes and spends his billions.
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Issac “Ike” Perlmutter, 77, didn’t begin his career in entertainment.
Perlmutter was born and raised in Israel, according to Forbes, and he fought in the 1967 Six-Day War as a part of his compulsory military service.
He immigrated to the US in 1967 at 24, according to Forbes. Perlmutter had only $250 to his name at the time and sold toys in Brooklyn, New York, to support himself.
Perlmutter went on to build a thriving action-figure manufacturer.
Perlmutter owned ToyBiz with Avi Arad, another Israeli veteran and now billionaire. It’s through the action-figure manufacturer that they first got involved in Marvel.
The comic-book giant invested in Toy Biz in 1993 and began manufacturing its action figures through the company, The Washington Post reported. At the time, Marvel was still primarily a comic-book company and deep in debt, according to The New York Times.
Before Marvel and Toy Biz, Perlmutter was involved in various other companies, including the drugstore chain Revco and Cabbage Patch doll maker Coleco, the Financial Times reported.
After three years of working with Marvel, Perlmutter took over the company in bankruptcy.
Perlmutter gained complete control over Marvel from the billionaire investor Ronald Perelman and became its largest shareholder in 1998, according to The Washington Post, and later merged Marvel with Toy Biz.
Carl Icahn also vied for control of Marvel in 1998 and even tried to topple Perlmutter in 2005, but Perlmutter hung on to his post, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Financial Times compared the battle between the three men for control of Marvel to the biblical tale of David and Goliath in 2009.
Under Perlmutter’s control, Marvel pivoted its business model to focus on licensing its characters to be turned into films, video games, and new toys, The Washington Post reported. Marvel’s revenue boomed with the new business model. Marvel released its first film under Perlmutter’s control, “X-Men,” in 2000, The Financial Times reported. Fox produced films based on “Fantastic Four” and “Daredevil,” Sony made numerous “Spider-Man” films, and Universal took charge of “The Incredible Hulk,” The Post reported.
In 2000, 8% of Marvel’s revenue came from licensing its characters for projects including film and television deals, according to The New York Times. Licensing jumped to 26% of Marvel’s revenue in 2002 as Perlmutter pivoted the company to focus on its intellectual property.
Perlmutter is known for his divisive leadership style and has been called one of Hollywood’s “most feared (and frugal)” CEOs by The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters described Perlmutter in 2014 as “tightfisted” with the company’s funds, reporting that he regularly pays actors below market standards and proposed serving potato chips at the premiere of the first “Iron Man” film in 2008. The film went on to gross $585.2 million worldwide.
The Hollywood Reporter also reported that Perlmutter once chastised staffers for giving some journalists two sodas as opposed to just one.
Perlmutter also keeps a close eye on Marvel’s creative direction and company culture, Masters reported. An unnamed person with knowledge of the company told The Hollywood Reporter that Perlmutter stopped Marvel from buying new furniture when it moved offices.
“Disney owns Marvel, but Ike gets to control every budget and everything spent on marketing, down to the penny,” a Marvel insider told The Hollywood Reporter. Marvel operates as a “semiautonomous unit” within Disney, similar to ESPN and Pixar, according to the Financial Times.
Perlmutter’s influence over Marvel has been curtailed in recent years. The studio promoted Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, giving him control over television, animation, and print editorial projects in October after removing Perlmutter from the film division in 2015, according to Variety.
Perlmutter was inducted into the three-comma club in 2009 after selling Marvel to Disney for $4 billion.
Perlmutter personally profited $1.4 billion from the deal, the Financial Times reported at the time. Part of Perlmutter’s payout came in the form of stake in the Walt Disney Co. that was estimated to be worth $600 million at the time, making him one of the company’s largest shareholders.
As of Friday, Disney’s market cap was $203.4 billion.
Little is known about how Perlmutter spends his money. Perlmutter does have a membership to Trump’s Mar-a-Largo club, the 20-acre luxury resort often referred to as “winter White House.” Memberships cost $200,000 a year plus a $14,000 annual fee and $2,000 dining minimum, Business Insider previously reported.
Perlmutter became close friends with President Trump during his time as a member of Mar-a-Largo, ProPublica reported.
Perlmutter has also spent his fortune on real estate in both Palm Beach, Florida, and New York City.
In 2011, Perlmutter had a dispute with a neighbor over his subdivision’s tennis courts that devolved into a “bizarre legal drama,” Fast Company reported.
The billionaire also has a home in New York City, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Perlmutter has also given some of his money away.
Perlmutter donated $50 million to fund cancer research at New York University Langone Medical Center in 2014 and another $9 million in 2015. Perlmutter’s wife, Laurie Perlmutter, has volunteered at the hospital since 1978 and serves as a trustee alongside her husband, The Wall Street Journal reported. NYU renamed its cancer center after the billionaires following the donation.
However, Forbes’ billionaires list gave Perlmutter a 2 out of 5 philanthropy score based on the total share of his fortune he has given away over his lifetime.
A former NYPD sergeant once alleged that Perlmutter used his position at Marvel to expedite a permit filing.
A former NYPD sergeant accused Perlmutter of bribing him for a New York City gun permit while the officer was pleading guilty to charges of bribery unrelated to Perlmutter in 2018, the New York Daily News reported at the time. The sergeant, David Villanueva, said Perlmutter gave him tickets to the premieres of six Marvel films. No charges were pressed against Perlmutter.
Perlmutter’s close friendship with the president has helped him become one of three “shadow rulers” of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Perlmutter is the first person Trump calls when he needs advice on Department of Veterans Affairs issues, ProPublica reported.
Perlmutter is a major donor to Trump’s reelection campaign and advised the president on veterans issues despite never having served in the US military. A person familiar with the matter told Business Insider that Perlmutter was no longer involved with the department.
Perlmutter is famously reclusive.
Perlmutter is rarely photographed or seen in public, according to Forbes. He attended the 2008 premiere of “Iron Man” wearing a mustache and glasses to disguise himself and has not attended any of the company’s red-carpet events since, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Friends of Perlmutter attributed his reclusiveness to his “thick” Israeli accent, the Financial Times reported. One of Perlmutter’s former employees told The Hollywood Reporter that the billionaire also “relishes his reputation as secretive and frugal.”
Even before his friend Trump was elected president, photographs of Perlmutter were rare, according to The Washington Post. He has never given a single interview to a member of the press, Bloomberg reported.