Take the current battle being waged by Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, who is seeking to elect four directors to Target's ( TGT) board. He's estimated the current proxy battle, which will be resolved next week, is costing his firm $10 million to 15 million. He will pay this out of his own pocket, even while the incumbent board pays for all of its costs out of shareholders' pockets. It shouldn't be so costly or on such uneven terms to put forward some candidates for consideration.

When I hear management -- like that of Target -- complain that a shareholder challenge is too distracting and costly that it keeps it from running the business, I think to myself that if management had done a good enough job of running its business to begin with in the first place, shareholders wouldn't have been forced to take up a crusade against it.

These new shareholder-friendly rules from the SEC will serve all shareholders better than the old skewed rules. There will be a burst of challenges in 2010 and 2011 in response to these new rules and many boards will see their composition change significantly in response to the challenges. My prediction is that this initial "cleansing period" will prompt other boards to preemptively change themselves before being forced to by their shareholders. Counter-intuitively, I expect these new rules, in the long run, to lead to fewer shareholder showdowns, not more. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the ability to cost-effectively run a credible proxy contest against a sleepy board will rouse many of these boards to heal themselves of what afflicts them.
At the time of publication, Jackson had no positions in the companies mentioned.

Eric Jackson is founder and president of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd.

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