As cheers rained down on his entrance at Tuesday's big El Paso ( EP) meeting, Oscar Wyatt was keeping a secret.

The investor knew he had just suffered a narrow loss in one of corporate America's most significant proxy fights ever. But for now he hid his disappointment from the enthusiastic crowd. So, as his fellow El Paso shareholders poured into Houston's downtown convention center, bolts of hope -- of exquisite possibility -- electrified the air.

In a few moments, the charged atmosphere would dissipate as it became clear that victory had gone to the management slate. "It is time to put this proxy fight behind us," interim CEO Ronald Kuehn announced. "Starting today, we move forward together with one voice and one goal to make the company stronger."

Indeed, El Paso's incumbents had emerged with a narrow victory, maintaining their hold on the big energy merchant. But even as the dissident faction led by Wyatt and Selim Zilkha noted their apparent failure, attention was turning to the company's future. And the comments of shareholders who supported the upstarts in this long, ugly proxy brawl indicate that more battles await El Paso management on that front.

To many, management's familiar pledge to restore El Paso's former might -- by shedding assets, cutting debt and exercising new discipline -- felt almost stale.

"These changes," Zilkha said Tuesday of El Paso's revitalization plan, "are not enough to try to save a company that -- despite having world-class assets -- has been brought to its knees."

Later, Wyatt privately agreed. He predicted that El Paso management would "destroy the company promptly" or sell it off in pieces. In fact, he gave it only one shot at survival.

"If they hire a real good CEO -- who will run the board off -- they've got a chance," he said. El Paso stock, mostly holding its ground since Tuesday's drama, fell 14 cents Thursday to $8.80.

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