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L’activisme des investisseurs peut être vu comme un catalyseur

3 janvier 2014

Vous trouverez, ci-dessous, un compte rendu, rédigé par  dans le magazine du NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors), et résultant d’une table ronde portant sur le phénomène des investisseurs activistes.

On notera que plusieurs experts, dans certaines circonstances, considèrent les activistes comme des agents de changement. Voici quelques extraits très intéressants :

Activism Should Be Seen as a Catalyst, Not Operational Weakness

Directors must take care to balance their business acumen against shareholders’ opinions, new governance developments, proxy advisory firms’ recommendations, and management’s strategy.

While it is widely accepted that directors’ primary duty is to protect shareholder interests, directors must take care to balance their business acumen against shareholders’ opinions, new governance developments, proxy advisory firms’ recommendations, and management’s strategy, participants said in a recent National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) roundtable, presented in partnership with AIG and WilmerHale.

Ellen B. Richstone (left), Jeffrey Rudman, and Steve Maggiacomo

“Shareholder activist” and “shareholder activism” are umbrella terms that encompass a range of groups, interests, and modes of action, so boards’ responses naturally will vary depending on their particular situations. Some companies may face the Icahns and Ackmans of the world, who purchase ownership stakes in companies with the hope of gaining board seats and strategic control; or institutional investors like CalPERS, which are vocal in their opinions of the companies in which they invest; and retail investors with less influence but important opinions of their own.

“Fidelity is more likely to be at your feet while Icahn is more likely to be at your throat,” said WilmerHale’s Jeffrey Rudman. Even the types of shareholder activism can vary, said Martin M. Coyne II, ranging from Harvard Business School’s Shareholder Rights Project, to derivative suits following an M&A event, to family-owned companies facing strategic differences, to private companies with initial investors who are highly involved in strategic planning, to highly influential proxy firms.

While all these voices deserve to be heard, Coyne advised boards to remain focused on an end goal, rather than trying to satisfy all parties involved. “When that topic becomes omnipresent and goes from a discussion topic that should be discussed by the board and decided upon—and you start making bad business decisions to satisfy—what it does is take away from succession planning discussions, strategy discussions, operational discussions. It distracts the board and becomes an operational weakness,” he said.

The opinions of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), Glass, Lewis & Co., and other proxy advisors should be considered guidelines, not scripture; ensuring a solid reasoning process behind decisions is more important, participants said. Their influence can be a “good wake-up call,” said Shaun B. Higgins, to reevaluate governance practices, such as joint CEO-chair roles or certain types of compensation plans that proxy firms often campaign against. Bringing up these opinions is a jumping-off point for boards to ensure their policies are sound and defensible, and communicate those justifications to shareholders.

“What they bring is awareness to boards that there are certain issues of concern to the public that they have to address thoroughly,” said James J. Morris. “If the board can have a good rationale of why they want it that way, they’re going to be okay.”…

… Boards today must also consider investors’ and stakeholders’ interests beyond the bottom line, particularly when it comes to environmental concerns. Higgins noted that today’s reports and disclosures are more extensive than ever: “If you told me back in 2000 we were going to put corporate social responsibility in the annual report I would have said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It wasn’t even on our radar screen.”

Participants à la table ronde :

Martin M. Coyne II, Director, Akamai Technologies, RockTech

Peter T. Francis, Director, Dover Corp., Stanford Graduate School of Business

Shaun B. Higgins, Director, Aryzta AG, Carmine Labriola

Scott Hunter, FCA, Director, Allied World Assurance Company Holdings

James G. Jones, CFA, Founder/Portfolio Manager Sterling Investment Advisors; Director, CFA Institute

Jerry L. Levens, Director, Hancock Holding Co.

Steve Maggiacomo, SVP Financial Lines, AIG

James J. Morris, Principal, 2 Ventures; Director, Esterline Technologies, JURA Corp., LORD Corp.

Craig W. Nunez, Chairman and CEO, Bocage Group; Director, Goodwill Industries of Houston, Medical Bridges

Steve Pannucci, Professional Liability Underwriting Manager, AIG

Donald K. Peterson, Director, Sanford C. Bernstein Fund, TIAA-CREF

Ellen B. Richstone, Director, ERI, OpEx Engine, NACD New England

Andrea Robinson, Partner, WilmerHale

Jeffrey Rudman, Partner, WilmerHale

Carole J. Shapazian, Director, Baxter International

Richard Szafranski, Director, Corporate Office Properties Trust, Cleared Solutions

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