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Financial Times: Corporate activism ‘pioneer’ sets sights on US

Having developed a taste for activism, Pirc found itself challenging corporate beasts including Shell, British Gas and Hanson over issues such as pay and strategy.

THE ARTICLE

By Sundeep Tucker
Published: May 10 2007 22:37 | Last updated: May 10 2007 22:37

She might not manage billions of dollars or fight to join company boards but Anne Simpson is arguably the world’s most important shareholder activist.

While the likes of Carl Icahn and Eric Knight are prepared to use their positions to engineer battles with individual companies, she operates at the pinnacle of a global movement whose victories have enabled activists to ply their trade.

Ms Simpson is the executive director of the London-based International Corporate Governance Network, an influential lobby group representing the world’s biggest institutional investors, which boast combined assets under management of $10,000bn.

Since being appointed nearly three years ago as the network’s first full-time executive, the ICGN has sharpened its focus on big issues: top of its list is a campaign to improve the ability of shareholders in US companies to vote against the election of directors and for better access to the proxy. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts in Delaware – the pre-eminent US state for company law – are among the bodies that can attest to her zeal in lobbying for change. As well as the US, the network is sponsoring or advising corporate governance reform in Latin America, Africa and China.

London-born Ms Simpson started her activist career in the UK in 1986 when she co-founded Pensions and Investments Research Consultants, a lobby group set up by politically conscious public sector pension funds.

Conquests
1980s Pirc CEO. Battles Shell, British Gas, Hanson
1990s Leads World Bank unit pushing corporate governance in emerging economies
2004 Spearheads ICGN lobbying efforts for greater shareholder say in director elections in US companies

Pirc was initially driven by the funds’ quest to stop companies dealing with apartheid South Africa. Having developed a taste for activism, Pirc found itself challenging corporate beasts including Shell, British Gas and Hanson over issues such as pay and strategy.

Pirc’s activism – such as demanding shareholder votes on reports and accounts – was years ahead of its time and Ms Simpson, a convent-educated mother-of-three, regularly found herself demonised in the business press as an anti-capitalist crusader. Pirc’s offices were twice burgled.

In 1998 she accepted a role at the World Bank. The Asian crisis had floored many countries and the bank decided to set up a division to help emerging markets improve corporate governance structures. Her job was to develop a strategy for governments, regulators and the private sector.

The focus was to help economies recover by attracting capital and tackling corruption. One success, in 2000, was the foundation of a bourse in Brazil, which would only allow listings of companies that had adopted high governance standards. In 2000 Brazil had not seen a listing for five years: the New Market now boasts more than 100 companies with a combined valuation of $100bn.

Alastair Ross Goobey, a former ICGN chairman and long-time governance champion, describes Ms Simpson as a “pioneer” in the world of corporate activism.

Another admirer says: “Her work over the past 20 years has directly benefited the current generation of activist fund managers.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

 

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