The Impact of Shareholder Activism on Board Refreshment Trends at S&P 1500 Firms


Few  business-­related  topics  provoke  more  passionate  discussions  than  shareholder  activism  at  specific companies. Supporters view activists as agents of change who push complacent corporate directors  and  entrenched  managers  to  unlock  stranded  shareholder  value.  Detractors  charge  that  these aggressive investors force their way into boardrooms, bully incumbent directors into adopting short-­term strategies at the expense of long-­term shareholders, and then exit with big profits in hand.

Lost  in  this  heated  long-­  versus  short-­term  debate  is  the  significant,  real-time  impact  that  such  activism has on corporate board membership and demographics. ISS identified a recent surge in its evaluation of refreshment trends at S&P 1500 firms between 2008 and 2016 (see Board Refreshment Trends at S&P 1500 Firms, published by IRRCi in January 2017). This accelerated boardroom turnover coincided  with  an  increase  in  activists’  success  in  securing  board  representation,  particularly  via  negotiated settlements. A recent study of shareholder activism by Activist Insights pegged activists’ annual U.S. boardroom gains at more than 200 seats in 2015 and 2016. While a significant portion of this activism was aimed at micro-cap firms, threats of fights have become commonplace even at S&P 500 companies in recent years.

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