(Originally a Guest Post for The Activist Investor. )There is a perception among many that granting an activist significant board representation over and above what ownership might indicate grants unfair and detrimental control to the activist. Such an action is often derided as a stealth takeover, or a takeover with no premium.
However, granting an activist significant board representation, to balance the secured votes of management, actually transfers significant power to the unaligned board members already serving. Those unaligned board members (with significant ties to neither management nor the activist) are utterly familiar with the company and its problems, but have not had sufficient voice to cause change. It may be that the best effect an activist has, even one without a detailed, 30 point, 5-year plan, is to cause this shift in power towards these already serving board members.
The unfolding drama between the current management of Canadian Pacific Railway and Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management, L.P. offers a prime example. Pershing is seeking 5 board seats on a 15 member board while owning only 14% of outstanding shares. To some, this may seem like an undue amount of representation. However, we find that far from concentrating power in the hands of Pershing Square, granting Pershing significant representation would actually result in a much more even distribution of power on the board of directors.
Since things are in the late negotiating stages, with management offering Pershing a single seat, we looked at what would happen to the distribution of power on Canadian Pacific Railway’s board of directors if Pershing Square were granted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 additional seats. As Pershing is granted more seats the unaligned board members’ power increases significantly, as seen in the graph below. In fact, when Pershing Square is granted four seats, matching management’s secured votes, the power of the unaligned board members more than doubles to 25%!
We wonder how much of activists’ proven effectiveness at delivering returns stems from this simple redistribution of power to previously disenfranchised, but established board members. Let us know what you think in the comments below!