Tag Archive: Dell

The Great Debate: Shareholder Activism in the Boardroom

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While the term “shareholder activist” can send a shiver down the spines of corporate directors, there are often positive outcomes from this activity. Janet F. Clark, former executive vice president and CFO, Marathon Oil Corp. and director, Dell, YES Prep Public Schools, Teach for America; Darren Novak, senior vice president, Houlihan Lokey; Brian L. Schorr, chief legal officer and partner, Trian Fund Management; and Andrew E. Shapiro, president, Lawndale Capital Management discuss how and why activist shareholders can be a force for good.

Shareholder activists can take on many forms, and Schorr said activists typically fall into four broad categories: merger and acquisition activism, balance sheet activism, governance activism, and income statement/operational activism—which is the key analysis of his firm. “We want to create long-term shareholder value by focusing on the balance sheet, working closely with management and boards,” he said.

Behind the Scenes Activism

While activists are often making headlines in the media, Shapiro was quick to note the value in trying to engage with a company before going public. “Activism is inherently disruptive and can be costly to stakeholders, directors, and management—and even to activist investors,” Shapiro said. “There is great value in trying to engage with the board and management to resolve issues and determine irreconcilable differences.”

Schorr noted that his firm generally attempts to set up a meeting with the CEO and often a representative from the board to present strategic ideas before going public. “Our goal is to have a voice in the boardroom and persuade the board [that] there might be a different strategy they haven’t considered,” he said.

Activists at the Table

If a board and management are doing their jobs—actively testing strategies, looking at metrics and peer performance, and seeking improvement to increase firm value—they won’t get a knock on the door from activists, Clark said.

If, however, that knock does come, it should not be completely jarring to the company. “If a board is approached by [an] activist with an idea management hasn’t pursued, the activist is doing a positive thing. Management shouldn’t be surprised by concept,” Clark said.

Most Popular NACD Blog Posts of 2012

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Here are some of 2012’s most popular NACD Blog posts as measured by unique page views.

  1. Self-Reflection: Three Questions Boards Must Answer. Three essential questions drive the assessment process.
  2. PCAOB Weighs Pros and Cons of Mandatory Audit Firm Rotation. Alex Mandl, chairman of Dell’s audit committee, spoke on behalf of NACD at the PCAOB’s public meeting last March to share the director perspective.
  3. Five Boardroom Deficiencies: Early Warning Signals. At NACD’s Director Professionalism course in Charlotte, N.C., faculty member Michael Pocalyko listed the five boardroom deficiencies he has observed in almost every recent corporate failure.
  4. Undertaking an Honest Self-Assessment: Is Your Board Aligned? How boards conduct the assessments starting with the questions in post #1.
  5. Five Takeaways From Conference. The five takeaways from the 2012 Annual Board Leadership Conference, according to NACD’s Research team.
  6. Alphabet Soup: A Director’s Guide to Financial Literacy and the ABCs of Accounting and Auditing. Alexandra Lajoux’s guide to the seven roadblocks that impede understanding of accounting and auditing standards.
  7. An Update From the SEC. A mid-year update on SEC rules largely affecting the compensation committee.
  8. Five Guiding Points for Directors in the Digital Age of Corporate Governance. Former BD Chairman and CEO Ed Ludwig’s fundamentals for achieving sustainable long-term shareholder value creation.
  9. NACD Spearheads Alternative Solution to Mandatory Audit Firm Rotation. The collaborative effort to develop an alternative solution to PCAOB’s proposed rule mandating audit firm rotation.
  10. PCAOB’s Proposed Mandatory Audit Firm Rotation Misses the Point. NACD President and CEO Ken Daly on why mandating audit firm rotation will not necessarily improve auditor independence and objectivity.