By Maureen Wolff, President and Partner, Sharon Merrill Associates
For many companies, a looming activist shareholder is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. One reason is that an increasing number of hedge funds are using activism as a standalone strategy. Assets managed by activist hedge funds increased 42% in 2013 to $93 billion from $65.5 billion in 2012, according to Hedge Fund Research, Inc.
The swirl of activism has the C-suite and the board concerned. In a poll of executives for its recent Capital Conference Barometer, Ernst & Young reported that nine of 10 executives acknowledged that issues raised by shareholders have influenced boardroom agendas, with cost reduction and operational efficiency identified as the most pressing concern over the next 12 months.
The threat of activist investors encircling your company can be intimidating – unless you understand how to engage, respond and communicate. Here are 10 strategies to help you prepare. Continue reading
Sharon Merrill Associates President and Partner Maureen Wolff was selected as one of five new National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) Fellows. NIRI Fellows are recognized leaders who represent the ideals of the investor relations (IR) profession, and have distinguished themselves on the basis of their integrity, leadership, involvement and contributions to the IR profession throughout their careers.
Sharon Merrill, Chairman and CEO of Sharon Merrill Associates said, “Maureen is extremely well deserving of this great honor by the National Investor Relations Institute. She has been a leader in the advancement of the investor relations profession for the past 30 years and an ardent supporter of NIRI. Congratulations to Maureen and the 2014 class of NIRI Fellows.”
In the NIRI announcement of the Fellows Class of 2014 , NIRI CEO Jeff Morgan said, “I am delighted to honor these five outstanding individuals who have been so important to the development of the profession and to NIRI’s success. NIRI Fellows are nominated by their peers, and represent the highest standards in the investor relations profession and in our community. We look forward to honoring them at the 2014 NIRI Annual Conference this June.” Continue reading
By Dennis Walsh, Vice President
The Shareholder on a Shelf is a new tradition that has become the holiday gift of choice for IROs to their executive management teams. The story of the Shareholder on a Shelf is as follows:
“Have you ever wondered how the SEC could know;
If you’re naughty or nice in making your reported revenues and margins grow;
For 79 years it’s been a big secret;
Which now can be shared, if you promise to keep it.
At reporting time the SEC sends me to you;
I sit in the shadows to watch and report on all that you do;
My job is an assignment from Ms. Mary Jo White herself;
I am her helper, a friendly scout shareholder that sits on a shelf. Continue reading
By Maureen Wolff, President and Partner, Sharon Merrill Associates
When the SEC last month charged First Solar’s former head of investor relations with violating its fair disclosure rules, the announcement gave more than a few IROs pause. And for good reason. Lawrence Polizzotto paid a $50,000 fine for the violation. Although corporate IROs and the financial press have focused on the settlement with Polizzotto, perhaps more critical for public companies is the SEC’s treatment of First Solar itself.
Rather than charge the company separately, the SEC said it decided to forego corporate enforcement because of First Solar’s “extraordinary cooperation.” This included the company self-reporting the violations to the SEC and its “environment of compliance,” which First Solar developed through its disclosure committee and additional Reg FD training for employees managing the company’s public disclosure.
But how many public companies are actively training their staff in Reg FD, insider trading or even the general responsibilities that come with working for a public company? For example, while instruction against insider trading is something every public company should be providing, there are numerous examples of public filers whose employees claimed they did not know they were violating insider trading laws. Many companies expect their managers and reporting staff to understand what it means to be a public company employee, but may not take the time to teach it. And if it is taught, the training may consist of just a single session right before the IPO – perhaps never to be offered again. Continue reading
By Maureen Wolff, President and Partner
When The Men’s Wearhouse dismissed George Zimmer, the company’s high-profile pitchman and executive chairman, this summer, observers were left wondering what had caused the split. The company announced it had parted ways with Zimmer, who founded The Men’s Wearhouse in 1973, on June 19, five hours before its annual stockholders meeting was scheduled to take place. It provided an extensive explanation from the board of directors via press release – six days later. In the interim, and for several days thereafter, fans of Zimmer and his iconic commercial appearances took to social media with cries of “foul.” Zimmer himself commented on his ouster through a number of media channels.
Zimmer’s split must have been particularly damaging from a communications and branding perspective. After all, it is difficult to even think of the men’s retailer without hearing Zimmer and his classic phrase, “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.” But the travails of communicating succession aren’t limited to high-profile executives. In the past several weeks, we have seen changes or controversy at the top of a number of public companies, including J.C. Penney, Microsoft, Office Depot, Royal KPN and Vivendi.
Finding the next CEO or chairman is one issue. Communicating to investors that the board of directors has a sound plan for succession is quite another entirely. This means the challenge is two-fold: overcoming the stigma associated with internal succession discussions while a CEO – especially a successful one or a company founder – is still in place; and crafting a message that will ultimately calm investor fears about uncertainty caused by a pending transition. Continue reading
By Andrew Blazier, Senior Associate
A good friend and colleague of mine used to describe the universe of real estate investment trusts – REITs – as an “us girls” industry. It was difficult to break in, but once you did, the REIT community was so small, and so interconnected, that working within the industry could be done rather smoothly.
The publicly traded REIT community is indeed tightly knit. And the number of institutions investing in REITs isn’t much larger. When management teams go on roadshows or attend conferences, it’s not uncommon for them to meet the same individuals from the same funds four, five or six times in a year. I compare it to one of those small towns you see in Western films, with the two main characters squaring off to see who will ultimately control the town: “This investor pool isn’t big enough for the two of us.” Continue reading