Companies starting to realize long proxy fights are a waste of time: Norton Fulbright
A top Canadian activism expert says he wouldn’t want to sit on a company’s board of directors as the role has become increasingly demanding and requires quick decision-making, that in turn, is driving more shareholder activism.
“There’s a lot of folks who call and say they want to get onto boards and that sort of thing. It’s not something I personally aspire to,” said Walied Soliman, global and Canadian Chair of international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, in an interview with BNN Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman on Thursday.
“I think it’s first of all, very, very hard work. It’s become an on-demand, high-pressure environment and there are significant decisions and risks that need to be assessed very quickly.”
Soliman, who has been involved in most major proxy battles in Canada such as Agrium Inc.'s 10-month-long contest with Jana Partners LLC, added that the quick-acting nature of boards today is also leading to more shareholder activism.
“There’s a lot of activism being driven by boards making very quick decisions in an environment where quick decisions are required,” he said, pointing to the cannabis sector as an example.
“If you are not moving very fast as a board, to me that’s actually a reason for activism,” Soliman said. “If you’re a navel-gazing board that’s sitting back and wondering what the analysis is going to be to lead to the next transaction, you’re going to lose.”
Soliman said that most boards today have a least one member who has been involved in some sort of proxy fight as they become more common, but that wasn’t always the case.
“That experience has become very helpful,” Soliman said. “And I have found that managers are looking to, as part of their matrix, have at least one person on their board who has been through a real dog fight.”