I’d guess that you’ll be surprised to hear that Campbell Soup has a family that’s still active in the business. We often hear about the Fords still being central features of the company, but, not so much, about the heirs of John T. Dorrance, inventor of Campbell’s condensed soups.
Several of the family members still serve on the company’s Board of Directors and they’re currently in a pitched battle to retain their board seats. Their challenger is another hedge fund (you’ll recall earlier comments about the hedge funds that brought down Toys-r-Us and Sears). This one is Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund, Third Point, and Loeb is currently in an all-out battle to stack the board with his candidates, saying that the Campbell family members seek to “preserve their seats and their reign of error.” Hmmm – another hedge fund guy who fashions himself as knowing all about the management of large companies – without ever having done so, himself. Third Point and their supporters own about 10% of Campbell shares; the Campbell family members own 41% of the shares. Each of the factions has nominated 12 people to serve on the board. Third Point’s nominees include: former Uber executive Bozoma Saint John (supposedly, the thinking is that he can do better at serving on a board than in actually running a company); a Carlyle Group executive (private equity – one step below a hedge fund); and two Third Point employees. Clearly, the effort is all about co-opting Cambell’s company and carrying out an approach similar to that used at Sears and Toys-r-Us – drain away all the company’s usable resources, like properties, patents, and specialty lines that can be sold to other companies and then liquidate the rest. I’m rooting for the Campbell family to prevail against Activist Loeb. Certainly, there is room for improvement at Campbell’s in getting the company brands at the forefront of the public’s attention – but, that won’t be the approach that will be taken by the Activists – there was no propping up of brands at Sears – just selling them away.