If you’ve been following the Sotheby’s activist investor saga, you were as surprised as management was when it was announced yesterday that Daniel Loeb was spurning Sotheby’s offer of a significant board seat in favor of a slate of three candidates that included himself. Given Patrick McClymont’s masterly handling of the activist issues—freeing up capital from the company’s real estate portfolio and art loan book—the only remaining issue between activists and management was the volume of capital to be returned to shareholders.
Mick McGuire, the fund manager who set the drama in motion, has to be looking at his exit if he hasn’t already done so. McGuire amassed 4.5m shares somewhere in the $30-range. With the stock trapped below a $50 ceiling after the buyback announcement, an activist would be more than happy to book his 40+% gain and move on to another target.
Not Loeb. Yesterday he declared his intention to pursue a proxy fight. Loeb seems to want to manage Sotheby’s from the boardroom by adding not only himself but his restructuring ally and another luxury goods CEO:
“We believe these prompt and long overdue developments make the case that the company and all shareholders will benefit from having an owner’s perspective in the boardroom,” it wrote. […]
Sotheby’s still needs to cut more costs and improve its share of the contemporary art market, as well as enlarging its online sales programs, the hedge fund wrote in its filing.
“All shareholders will benefit from further depth of experience in Sotheby’s key business building block: luxury customer relationship development,” Third Point wrote.
Is Loeb’s proxy fight—when he’s won almost all of his activist concessions—simply a personal vendetta against Ruprecht? or is it the vanity of hedge fund manager wanting to play corporate strategist and executive?
Finally, if we take Loeb at his word, what is the strategy he envisions for Sotheby’s?
Loeb Plans a Proxy Fight at Sotheby’s (Dealbook/NYTimes)