Activist investors who expect to raise returns by influencing strategic decisions are having a meaningful impact on many industries from consumer-packaged goods to aerospace and defense. And the odds that your company, or industry, may find itself targeted by an activist are going up. Activists launched 159 campaigns in 2015 focused on shareholder value maximization, nearly double the 88 that were launched the year before. If you are a senior executive in a company concerned about activists, you have two potential paths: take the defensive (and perhaps expected) posture of defending your current strategy, or embrace the challenge and reassess your company’s path to value creation.
Activists’ interventions are often described, favorably or not depending on your point of view, as slashing and burning, taking out cost, and engaging in financial engineering. But that’s an unfair oversimplification. Many activists are asking some very tough and fundamental strategic questions: Are the company’s investments in the right place? Is the company’s portfolio too diverse? Are there difficult moves that must be made to create a winning strategy? Senior executives should consider these questions carefully, since the rise of corporate activism is unlikely to slow any time soon — either way — these very basic but important strategic questions must be addressed.
Simply improving short-term performance by cutting costs across the board isn’t the answer – activists can do that themselves, simply by taking out 10% from your company’s cost baseline. You need to look at costs as strategic investments that ultimately drive growth: which costs, if cut, would actually destroy shareholder value by diminishing growth or competitive advantage? And as an insider with the right perspective and access to granular company data, you can match or exceed what outsiders may be able to offer your investors.