Companies choose to engage in activist investors - report

November 18
10:33 AM 2013

A Reuters report highlighted the number of instances wherein companies are now welcoming corporate agitators with open arms. When these types of investors are initially seen as bad news to the companies they set their sights on, chief executive officers instead are now willing to open dialogues in order to pursue a middle ground.

Ken Squire of research firm 13D Monitor said after high-profile activist investor Carl Icahn had met with Apple CEO Tim Cook at dinner, "No one would have done that a few years ago. Now the stigma is gone. Activist investing is more accepted by investors and more respected by advisers."

Cook had been engaging with Icahn about his position regarding Apple financial disposition. Icahn owned 4.7 million in Apple stock. Icahn had been pressuring the tech giant to share its wealth it had amassed from its successive launches of its iPad and iPhone products to investors via a proposed USD150 billion stock buyback. Reuters noted that the relationship between the two have yet to turn sour.

In another example, Daniel Loeb, another famous activist investor and founder of Third Point, had successfully campaigned for the appointment of Marissa Mayer for her ascension to the chief executive role at Yahoo Inc. Loeb was also instrumental in booting out a former Yahoo executive due to his questionable educational attainment, and was able to gain corporate say by acquiring three seats on Yahoo's board of directors. Loeb is currently pushing for corporate changes in auction house Sotheby's.

On the other hand, activist investors are still seen by many as loudmouth self promoters regardless of the purpose, Reuters said in its report. Hollywood star George Clooney had a word war with Loeb when the latter pushed Sony to divest parts of its entertainment division, wherein Clooney's company has partnership ties in.

In March, lawyer Martin Lipton said activist hedge funds' practice was a form of extortion. "(These funds are) preying on American corporations to create short-term increases in the market price of their stock."

Nonetheless, many still see activist investors as a catalyst to change.

Barington Capital executive Jared Landaw said, "Effective activist managers are able to function as a catalyst to help improve the performance of the companies in their investment portfolio. Unlike more traditional passive investors, they don't just have to watch from the sidelines with their fingers crossed and hope their investment thesis will unfold."

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