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In fact, it was just days after Yang's resignation that
Research in Motion co-CEOs and founders
Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down amid a similar chorus of shareholder dissent. That announcement was accompanied by news that Canadian activist Prem Watsa (whose
Fairfax Financial Holdings now owns about 5.12% of the company) would be joining the RIM board. Activist in; co-founders out. In less than a week, we had been provided two powerful signals that there are no longer any sacred cows where battles for corporate control are concerned.
And it isn't just those investors who control millions of shares that boards and C-Suites need to be worried about. Dodd-Frank's new
proxy access rules are now on the books and poised to open the director-nominating process to small shareholders that meet certain minimum criteria. Already, investors in 16 major companies -- including
Wells Fargo and others - are attempting to amend corporate bylaws to enable the unprecedented levels of access now permissible under the SEC rule.
One such investor is Kenneth Steiner. A small shareholder who has offered up hundreds of governance reforms over the years, Steiner recently
proposed that the boards of companies including
Bank of America,
Sprint Nextel and others, "amend their companies' bylaws to permit any group of 100 or more shareholders who have held at least $2,000 in stock for at least one year -- or any holder of 1% or more for at least two years -- to nominate directors." In today's activist environment, Steiner's story isn't unique because of what he did; it stands out because of how he did it.
Steiner's use of a form he downloaded from the activist investor site
proxyexchange.org to submit his proposals is a clear demonstration of the role social and digital media are playing in increased shareholder empowerment. On sites such as proxyexchange.org,
MoxyVote, small shareholders are pooling their sentiments and their shares to drive reforms at the companies they own -- and their focus extends far beyond financial performance. On MoxyVote, shareholders can foment support for "good cause" proposals on issues ranging from environmental sustainability to fair labor practices. MoxyVote even provides portals by which investors can vote on activist agendas.