Activists’ Battles With Companies Played Out in the Classroom

The exploits of high-profile activist fund managers, such as Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman, have inspired a new generation of would-be investors who are keen to know how activists identify suitable targets and carry out their campaigns. “I think it’s essential to learn about activism,” says Niklas Schmuecker, who is undertaking a finance MBA at New York City’s Columbia Business School. “If you end up in investment management you need to know how activists work and how their actions could affect your investments. “If you end up in a corporation you’ll need to know how to defend the company from activist attacks. There are many potential careers where what I learnt will be helpful.” Activist investors buy small stakes in companies — typically 5-10 per cent of their stock — and then use their position as a minor shareholder to pressure the companies to make changes. In many situations, such as at Microsoft and Yahoo, activists have won board seats, while at others they have forced their targets to buy rivals, sell business lines and change how they allocate capital. Between 2009 and 2015, more than 40 per cent of the 500 largest US listed companies were subject to activist scrutiny, with 15 per cent facing such investors in a public stand-off, according to data provider FactSet.

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