Paul Singer has certainly been a busy boy this year. The busiest, if we’re counting by number of activist campaignsembarked upon. And at times, he’s very much sounded like his old self, as when telling people that Michael Dell’s plan to retake his company public in some way, shape or form is “pretty awful,” or in his epic takedown of all things cryptocurrent.
But longtime Singerologists, such as myself, have noticed that the great man and his hedge fund, Elliott Management, has become somewhat less prone to immediately resorting to the cutting barb or army of holograms, and more likely to use words like “encouraging” and “world class,” the latter specifically about a brand that was setting setting people’s genitals on fire. Indeed, this is something of a long-term trend, and now we know why.
Elliott tapped its 30-year-old former research analyst, Christine O’Brien, whose job it is to market the firm as a force for sound corporate governance.
Ms. O’Brien’s mandate is to highlight “the corporate-governance work Elliott has quietly been doing all along,” she said in an interview….
A driving force behind Elliott’s change in posture is a seismic shift in the priorities of the world’s biggest investors as more and more cash flows into index funds. Operators of index-tracking funds, which account for nearly $10 trillion of assets world-wide, according to Morningstar, tend to put more weight on governance considerations such as board diversity and executive compensation than the active managers they are increasingly displacing.
So, yea, the kinder, gentler Elliott is a strategic move. But maybe also a genuine change of heart? The Journal speculates that Singer may not have liked the taste of his own medicine administered last year by a doomed adversary, although it must be said that he gave even better than he got and that it’s working out pretty well for him. And also that he may or may not still be doing those things on the side. But still: personal growth! Maybe!
Mr. Cohn conceived of the role a few months after a particularly nasty fight at industrial-parts maker Arconic. Elliott had publicly criticized then-Chief Executive Klaus Kleinfeld over poor stock performance and sought his ouster. The battle climaxed when Mr. Kleinfeld lost his jobafter sending a letter that seemed threatening to the hedge fund’s founder, Paul Singer, and Elliott ultimately received a few board seats in a settlement.
Beginning in May, for example, the firm waged a campaign at Athenahealth, a software company whose chief executive stepped down after details from a 2006 divorce proceeding about him assaulting his then-wife surfaced in a media report. Though Elliott denies taking any part in bringing the information to light, its campaign drew widespread scrutiny and was the subject of a lengthy New Yorker magazine story.