Shareholder activism is gathering momentum and going global. It is most prevalent in the United States, where Schulte, Roth & Zabel recently scored an unprecedented litigation victory on behalf of venBio Select Advisers LLC, in the Immunomedics proxy contest. For the first time, a major corporate deal that sought to entrench incumbent management was unwound in the context of a proxy contest. In this issue we interview some members of the SRZ teams who advised venBio. Canada may even be more activist-friendly than the US in several respects, say local lawyers, Goodmans.
The tally of public activist campaigns in the US has almost quadrupled from 123 in 2010 to 476 in 2016, according to Activist Insight. In the UK the number has fluctuated between 21 and 43 without any clear uptrend over the past seven years, but both US and UK managers have secured notable successes. Paul Singer’s Elliott Advisers managed to install independent directors, and new management, at Alliance Trust. Jeffrey Ubben’s ValueAct has obtained a board seat at Rolls Royce and Martin Hughes’ Toscafund has got one of its nominees onto the board of Speedy Hire.
In Europe outside the UK, the number of public actions has multiplied six-fold from 10 in 2010 to 60 in 2016. But there has been mixed success. Elliott has, thus far, found corporate governance in the Netherlands less conducive to activism. Elliott, and other shareholders, including the UK’s largest pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), were denied the chance to discuss, and vote on, the chairmanship of Akzo Nobel. USS co-Head of Responsible Investment, Daniel Summerfield, said “this portrays Dutch governance in a very negative light”. The Akzo board has thrice rejected PPG’s takeover offer.