Clifton S. Robbins is strangely doing okay for himself and his investors, despite having never sent a letter to a company instructing it to pull its head out of its ass, digging up the old college transcripts of CEOs, informing boards they have exactly one hour to free up 2-3 seats, or telling chief executives to do the honorable thing and euthanize themselves.
"I'm more of a lover than a fighter," Mr. Robbins said recently during an interview in his glass-walled office overlooking Greenwich Harbor in Connecticut. That is the antithesis of the typical image of an activist investor, many of whom have gained renown for buying up large holdings in companies then using tough tactics to force boards to make changes—from asset sales to executive ousters—bolstering the company's shares in the process. Mr. Robbins, 55 years old, said he won't invest in a company unless its management appears receptive to his ideas. And, he said, public fights aren't his style. So far, that spoonful of sugar appears to be paying off. Mr. Robbins's fund, Blue Harbour Group LP, which manages $1.7 billion, is up 20% this year and 16%, after fees, on an annualized basis for the past three years, according to an investor presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
While many activist investors said they are reluctant to engage in a public battle, Mr. Robbins is one of the few that never has. Mr. Robbins said his team conducts a long process of research before building a sizable stake in a company, holding phone calls, dinners and meetings with company executives to gauge their responses. If the company seems willing, Blue Harbour will typically invest $100 million to $200 million. "We want to develop a relationship," Mr. Robbins said. "If you don't want to go along with us, we'll go invest in someone else."