Francis J Aquila
Sullivan & Cromwell
Over the years since the financial crisis, shareholder activism has been on the rise around the world. Increasingly institutional shareholders are taking a range of actions to leverage their ownership position to influence public company behaviour. Activist investors often advocate for changes to the company, such as its corporate governance practices, financial decisions and strategic direction. Shareholder activism comes in many forms, from privately engaging in a dialogue with a company on certain issues, to waging a contest to replace members of a company’s board of directors, to publicly agitating for a company to undergo a fundamental transaction.
Although the types of activists and forms of activism may vary, there is no question that shareholder activism has become a more prominent, and likely permanent, feature of the corporate landscape. Boards of directors, managements and the markets have increasingly become more attuned to shareholder activism, and engaging with investors has become a priority for boards and managements as a hallmark of basic good governance.
Shareholder activism has become a global phenomenon that is effecting change to the corporate landscape not only in North America but also in Europe, Australia and Asia. While shareholder activism is still most prevalent in North America, and particularly in the United States, shareholder activism is expanding its reach across the globe. This movement is being driven by, among other things, a search by hedge funds for new investment opportunities and a cultural shift toward increased shareholder engagement in Europe, Australia and Asia.