Former Starwood Hotels (HOT) CEO Frits van Paasschen says there's no better defense against shareholder activists than a well-run company capable of communicating its strategy to investors.
At TheDeal's Corporate Governance 2016 conference in New York on Monday, van Paasschen said companies now, more than ever, need to be on the lookout for ways that disruptive technologies are endangering once-entrenched businesses like hotels.
"In the past you would say that Starwood competed directly with Hilton (HLT) or Marriott (MAR) ," he told Real Money's Jim Cramer in an afternoon panel. "But Airbnb today has more listings than these companies have rooms."
Airbnb, the burgeoning online marketplace for room accommodations, was a major (and unforeseen) threat to Starwood's business, Paasschen said. His roughly seven-year tenure at the helm of Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood ended on February 2015, as the company ultimately spun off Starwoods' time-share businesses into a publicly traded company to pare down costs.
And the next wave of digital disruptions is likely to come at the expense of U.S. retailers, especially as activists increasingly attempt to shake up the business models of corporations who are unable to convince shareholders that they have a clear strategy for adapting, Paasschen added, noting that "the rise of Amazon (AMZN) is nowhere near played out."
Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCoopers's U.S. divestitures leader, Colin Wittmer, said at the panel that managers can best retain control of their companies by reaching out to shareholders before activists publish their own strategic goals through the media.
"Companies now are very proactive in talking to their shareholders," he said. "It's different engagement than they've had before."
Cramer also noted that the rise of activism in today's market may be unfounded, because there is not a turnaround on the horizon for some struggling companies.
"There are some stocks that are low because they deserve to be low," he said.