#125: A New Model For Shareholder Activism
* The Proxy Activism Project
* A New Model For Shareholder Activism (Blog)
* A New Model For Shareholder Activism (YouTube)
* A New Model For Shareholder Activism (Eric Schleien / John King)
* Netflix, Sears, and Tribal Leadership (Eric Schleien / John King)
* How To Keep Large Companies Innovative (Eric Schleien / Scott Forgey)
* Eric Schleien discussing Tribal Leadership
* Eric Schleien discussing Activist Investing
* CBRE Case Study - Tribal Leadership
* Comparing Transformational & Transactional Leadership (Eric Schleien)
* Cultural Issues In The Hospital Industry (Eric Schleien) Took 9 Years To Develop
ProxyActivism is a project that has taken 9 years to create over the course of thousands and thousands of hours to develop, and finally launch. This blog post will go into the background into how ProxyActivism came to be, our process, how I see this project unfolding, and how you as a value investor can be involved (and no, for all you cynical fucks, I’m not trying to sell you something) The Initial Insight
My idea for ProxyActivism started when I did an ontological leadership program with a former Vice President of Disney who decided to quit his job and devote the rest of his life to empowering people. I got more in a few days of intense Socratic style inquiry than in all the years of reading books combined. As someone who relied on books to “get ahead” this was a completely new paradigm for me. Within the next few months, my income tripled, I repaired relationships with the people around me, and produced many more results. I figured there must be some application to business as well. And it turned out my intuition was right. The company had a consulting arm. The consulting arm of the organization was recently named one of the top consulting companies in the world by Forbes. At a lecture I attended at NYU, the preliminary internal data at the company was that their average client experienced a 600% increase in profits within 12 months. I thought to myself, “I wonder if I could combine ontological coaching with shareholder activism?”
A Zero Competition Game
I figured this must have already been done and figured I would go work for a hedge fund already doing this and get some experience under my belt. However, after searching, I could not find a single hedge fund that was doing activism this way. Even the funds that talked about so-called “transformations” at companies - were really just doing more “change management consulting” and not actually anything transformational. Nothing wrong with that, just not as reliable or as effective.
So I became very frustrated that I could not find a single hedge fund playing this game called transform companies. I knew I was missing something. Every single business study on this kind of work showed results that any shareholder activist would be salivating over, this was clear alpha, and a low competition game with very high barriers to entry. (If the barriers to entry were low, I would not be writing about this or even talking about this).
Why Is Nobody Already Doing This?
I knew I was missing something but couldn’t figure out what. This was the best idea I ever had in my life for a business and also seemingly the lowest hanging fruit. I just couldn’t get why nobody had taken this on before.
And then it became quite clear.
I called 37 different hedge funds or investment managers that were engaged in some kind of activism. I was excited and figured they would all be competing for me to implement this idea at their fund. I had this vision that I would develop this business as a fund, make a ton of money, and make a ton of people (including myself) extremely successful in this world. These “so-called” rational people however became quite cynical. Not skeptical and open. Cynical and closed off. I couldn’t believe it. Some of them told me this was not their wheelhouse and they were going to stick to what they already knew. Ok fine, I can get that. But an unwillingness to learn something new? Whatever happened to expanding the circle of competence in a low-risk manner that would not take up a lot of time? Interesting. However, there were also managers that told me it sounded like bullshit, that the results sounded too good to be true. I asked them if they wanted me to share with them all the independent case studies out there. Not one person was interested. The Challenge: Combining Two Domains
Now I was intrigued. Ontological coaching is so outside the realm of these managers because you can’t measure it directly as a function of cause and effect. I started to see that all business management tools and techniques were based on cause and effect and that these managers, while extremely smart at reading numbers or learning about different management techniques, were also completely immature around their thinking when it came to leadership, ontology, and anything transformational in nature. They were inappropriately trying to apply their pre-existing models for management techniques onto a leadership conversation as that was their box of awareness/logic system. Anything outside of that - it was like their thinking-brain just shut down and their survival-lizard brain went into automatic. It was outstanding to watch very intellectually smart people start spewing nonsense trying to make sense of something they had no understanding of into other models that were not relevant to this conversation. Long-story-short, they were unable to or unwilling to get it -- regardless of decades worth of data and case studies.
I figured, fuck these guys, I’ll just work with consultants who already have a great track record of transforming businesses and share with them how doing the work they are already doing in the context of a fund structure would be much more lucrative than charging a rate on their time.
The first person I went to was the CEO of this large consulting arm that had a several-decade long track record of doing ontological/transformational work with businesses, many that are in the billions of dollars in market cap. The CEO was extremely friendly on the phone with me but he flat out said that his company was going to stick to what they do best and not get involved in investing or starting a fund which he saw akin to gambling and “playing the market”.
Was this why the idea hadn’t been done before?
I reached out to another woman I knew who for 20 years had been producing amazing results with very large businesses charging $5,000/hour for her services. I spent a month outlining an entire business plan and then did a call with her presenting her with the idea. I again explained how if she did what she did in a fund structure she’d make more than her already lucrative $5,000/hour and would be able to generate even more business as the stock price performance would be worth more in marketing than anything she was currently able to do right now. I wanted her to be the woman that when a guy like Bill Ackman or Carl Icahn needed extra support, they could give her a call.
She told me that she wanted to stick to what she was good at and not get involved in the stock market or hedge funds.
Holy fucking shit!!!!!!
It was becoming very clear to me why this had never been done before. The ontological coaching world didn’t know shit about investing and their brains would shut down. They were more akin to getting involved with startups, sexy industries, and today would be into things like Crypto and 3D printing. Again, all worthy pursuits but not to combine value investing/shareholder activism/ontological coaching together. Resignation & Cynicism
On the flip side, many great investors are great because they are resigned and cynical by nature. Where is management lying to me? How are the books being cooked? Even people reading this article, many great investors may be reading this with their automatic little inner voice saying somet…