Responding to Activist Challenges in the Boardroom
Recently, NACD convened the spring 2014 meeting of the Nominating and Governance Committee Chair Advisory Council. Delegates discussed the impact of activist investor challenges in the boardroom, with guests Janet Clark, a former director of Dell and Bill McCracken, a former chairman of CA Inc. This session built on dialogue from the council’s previous meeting in November 2013, where delegates discussed shareholder activism from the investor perspective with two representatives of activist hedge fund Trian Partners: Nelson Peltz, CEO and founding partner and Brian Schorr, partner and chief legal strategist. Insights from the April meeting include:
- Understand the specifics of key investors’ profiles and priorities: Boards should ask management to report on takeaways from the company’s dialogue with “both sides of the house”—that is, those making investment decisions, as well as those who vote the proxy statements.
- Activist campaigns often have a significant impact on board dynamics: Directors may have differing views on how to respond to an activist campaign, which can create tension among board members.
- Senior management should maintain a focus on employees during an activist campaign. Many delegates agreed with one who urged boards to keep an eye on culture and employees: “We have to keep generating revenue and retaining our talent, in an uncertain and potentially very contentious environment.”
- Use outside perspectives to help prepare for potential activist challenges:Independent assessments, including analyst reports, shareholder surveys, and third-party reviews of board members’ tenure and skill sets, as well as perspectives from the firm’s independent advisors, can be useful in this regard.
The forum also included a discussion on building the boardroom of the future through effective “board refresh practices.” For an in-depth discussion of these and other insights and questions, click here to read the full Summary of Proceedings.