Blog > Category: Business

DealBook: Peltzís Attacks on DuPont Threaten Americaís Research Edge

From The New York Times DealBook, April 9, 2015

Since its founding in 1802, DuPont has been at the center of American scientific breakthroughs in chemistry. Among its research triumphs was the black powder that supplied 40 percent of the Allied needs in World War II.

In 1912, DuPont founded the first industrial science labs in the United States. Since then, the company has produced a remarkable number of innovations that have had wide-ranging and long-lasting effects on society. These include DuPont’s patented chemicals like rayon in 1924, Teflon in 1938, Kevlar in 1965 and Solamet solar cells in 2007.

Today, DuPont is facing an activist attack from Nelson Peltz. His Trian Fund seeks to replace four DuPont board members with Mr. Peltz and three other candidates.

Mr. Peltz has openly declared that his goal is to shut down DuPont’s central research labs and split the company into three parts — moves that would directly dilute scientific progress that DuPont has worked to develop.

DuPont is just the latest victim of Mr. Peltz’s boardroom assaults. In 2012, he persuaded Kraft’s chief executive at the time, Irene Rosenfeld, to abandon its global marketing by spinning off its North American food business and renaming the international company Mondelez. Since the separation, both companies have seen their revenues and profits largely decline or remain stagnant. In the wake of weak financial results, Kraft’s board agreed to sell the company last month to the Brazilian private equityfirm 3G to be merged into Heinz.

In mid-2013, Mr. Peltz attacked PepsiCo, trying to force it to buy Mondelez, combine it with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay business, and break the company in two: beverages and foods. PepsiCo’s chief executive, Indra Nooyi, with the full support of her board, strongly opposed Mr. Peltz’s financially driven plan. Ms. Nooyi’s strategy flourished as she significantly outperformed archrival Coke. Gaining little traction, Mr. Peltz backed off this year.

Mr. Peltz’s latest attack on DuPont is especially peculiar given its current management. Since becoming chief executive in January 2009, Ellen Kullman has done everything an activist might propose. She has reshaped the company’s portfolio to focus on its high-growth, high-margin businesses.

First, DuPont sold its performance coatings business to the Carlyle Group. Now, it is spinning off its performance chemicals business as Chemours, providing DuPont shareholders a one-time cash dividend of $4 billion.

These moves provide a clear strategic focus in three high-tech businesses: advanced materials, bio-based industrials, and agriculture and nutrition. DuPont has used its central research labs to support all its businesses, providing the breakthroughs that have spurred their growth.

In 2014 alone, $9 billion of DuPont revenue, or 32 percent, came from internal innovations. Without the steady stream of scientific breakthroughs coming from its central research labs, where will DuPont’s future revenue come from?

The Peltz proposal is troubling because it mirrors a disturbing trend in which financiers are gutting American research labs that develop tomorrow’s innovations. In reality, they want to increase short-term earnings, see an uplift in the stock price and close out their positions. They are speculators, not investors.

When a hotel chain increases its short-run profit by neglecting to make necessary repairs, customers eventually stop coming to stay in dilapidated rooms. Similarly, for science-driven companies like DuPont, research and development is at the heart of their growth. Today’s investments lead to tomorrow’s breakthroughs and profits. Cutting R.&D. investments that create innovative new products will leave these companies lagging global competition in years to come.

From time to time, investors conveniently ignore this fundamental business law. Financial engineers convince managers that they can generate short-term gains and not worry about the future. Allergan, which increased shareholder value 29 times in 16 years, was forced by Valeant to sell to Actavis this year to avoid being dismantled.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has openly declared it is moving away from basic science. IBM has cut R.&D. the last several years.

This rarely ends well. Without new products from R.&D., all of them will struggle.

DuPont currently has a strong, independent board that includes 10 current or former chief executives, chief financial officers or chief operating officers — many of whom have deep scientific and regulatory knowledge.

What then is the basis for replacing four of these directors with nominees loyal to Mr. Peltz? Among those Mr. Peltz seeks to replace is DuPont’s lead director, Alexander M. Cutler, who is chairman and chief executive of the Eaton Corporation and a highly regarded corporate leader.

In reality, all that seems to matter to Mr. Peltz is a higher stock price so he can make some money, close out his position and let others pick up the pieces.

In contrast, DuPont’s chief, Ms. Kullman, is making all the right moves for the company’s customers, employees and shareholders. During her first six years at the helm, DuPont provided a total return to shareholders of 266 percent with more than $13 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to its shareholders. Ms. Kullman’s results far exceed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Mr. Peltz’s own Trian Fund.

It’s time for DuPont shareholders to give Ms. Kullman a resounding vote of confidence at DuPont’s annual meeting, scheduled for May 13. If they don’t, one of America’s great science companies will be at risk.

Speaking Out Against Discrimination

Laws being passed this past week by Indiana and Arkansas to make discrimination legal on basis of religious freedom have stirred up a hornet’s nest of protests across the country, causing the Republican governors of these two states to ask that the legislation be modified.

While LGBT obviously oppose these laws, many of the most criticism has come from CEOs of the nation’s leading companies. Last Sunday, Apple CEO Tim Cook led off the debate when he penned a powerful op-ed decrying Indiana’s religious freedom law. His decision to speak out was not without risk. Apple products exist in 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal. He wrote:

“On behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation… regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, Apple will never tolerate discrimination.” 

Other CEOs, wary of similar risk, might have avoided the debate. In the past they have been reluctant to engage in these discussions, for fear of being criticized by their customers and employees, especially those who are evangelical Christians. The business response could have begun and ended with Apple.

But not this time.

In the past week, CEOs Doug McMillon of Walmart, Arne Sorenson of Marriott (a Mormon-founded company), Marc Benioff of Salesforce, and John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly (based in Indiana) have come out vigorously against similar laws.  Walmart’s McMillon tweeted about a similar law being considered in Arkansas, 

“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”

A few years ago, such public protest would have been surprising. For five years, I sat next to Lord John Browne, then chief executive of British Petroleum (BP), as we served together on the Goldman Sachs board. Browne is gay, yet this was a subject we never discussed. As he wrote in his poignant 2014 book, The Glass Closet, “My refusal to acknowledge my sexual orientation publicly stemmed from a lack of confidence… It is difficult to feel good about yourself when you are embarrassed to show who you actually are.” 

Increasingly authenticity is seen as the gold standard for leadership. Fortunately, we see more courageous CEOs – willing to take stands for what they believe and for the diversity of their employees. Now, more than ever, it is essential our society treat everyone equally regardless of religion, national origin, race, or sexual preference.

Discrimination for any reason gives a rationale for all forms of discrimination.  If the law permits business owners to discriminate against gays based on their religious views, what prevents them from discriminating against Muslims or Indians?

I know firsthand that wading into these debates has its downsides. As CEO of Medtronic in 2000, I spoke out against the Boys Scouts’ decision to prevent gay scouts from joining their ranks. I also supported the Medtronic Foundation’s decision to withhold grants to the Scouts because the Foundation does not fund organizations that discriminate for any reason. I received a lot of criticism from evangelical Christians and former Scouts among Medtronic employees, but it was worth it. Eventually, the local chapters amended their policies to accept all boys regardless of sexual preference, and years later the national organization followed suit.

It is encouraging that CEOs have taken an active role in this debate. But they can’t do it alone. Leaders from all walks of life, from government officials to civic leaders, need to embrace diversity in all forms. Speaking publicly against discrimination is the first step in that process. 

As Tim Cook wrote in his op-ed, “Men and women have fought and died fighting to protect our country’s founding principles of freedom and equality. We owe it to them, to each other and to our future to continue to fight with our words and our actions to make sure we protect those ideals.”

To the CEOs who have already spoken out, thank you. Your voices are powerful, and have already forced the states of Indiana and Arkansas to amend their laws. As this national debate shows, there is much work left to do for Americans to accept all people as being equal under the law.

Jeff Sonnenfeld for WSJ: Activist Shareholders, Sluggish Performance

Here’s an important article from my former colleague Jeff Sonnenfeld, who demonstrates that returns from activist funds are less than 50% of the S&P 500, and result in dismantling some formerly great companies. DuPont, in particular, does not deserve the kind of activist proxy attack Nelson Peltz is waging. It is a great company that is well run by CEO Ellen Kullman.

From Wall Street Journal, “Activist Shareholders, Sluggish Performance,” posted April 1, 2015.

For all the talk about activist shareholders—usually large hedge funds—getting seats on company boards and pushing to make strategic, value-enhancing changes, these activists haven’t fared especially well. Investing in index funds would have yielded better returns over the past few years than most activist funds.

How much better? In 2013 the HFR Activist index posted a total return of 16%, less than half the S&P 500 Index’s total return of 32.4%. In 2014 the HFR Activist Index saw returns of 4.8%, far below the S&P 500’s 13.7%.

Contrary to their rhetoric, many activist investors lack the Midas touch. Their recent returns may exceed the performance of other hedge funds, but they still lag behind the broader market. Ironically, the major companies targeted today, including Apple, PepsiCo, Dell, Dow and DuPont, generally deliver returns that soar above that of activist funds.

Some funds, such as Third Point, Relational Investors, Starboard Value and TPG-Axon Capital, have driven constructive outcomes at Yahoo, Office Depot, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot and SandRidge Energy. Yet too often activists pressure companies to cut costs, add debt, sell divisions and increase share repurchases, rather than invest in jobs, R&D and growth.

They do all this in the name of creating shareholder value. But that value is often short-lived and sometimes comes at the expense of long-term success, if not survival. Despite Carl Icahn’s successes—such as Chesapeake Energy (Netflix and Apple were great investments but they resisted his advice)—his overlooked failures include TWA, WCI Communities, Blockbuster and Dynegy, all of which are either out of business or have filed for bankruptcy.

Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management and its activist assaults on the Bank of New York, PepsiCo and DuPont are an interesting case in point. Trian delivered only an 8.8% return in 2014, nearly five percentage points below the S&P 500. In 2012 Trian was up a scant 0.9% while the S&P 500 was up 15.9%. Clearly, this undermines Mr. Peltz’s argument that DuPont’s board needs Trian and Mr. Peltz to drive better returns.

Five of the 11 companies where Trian has a seat on the board underperformed the S&P 500 between the time Trian got its seat and the end of last year—Wendy’s, Legg Mason, Mondelez International, Family Dollar and Chemtura, which went bankrupt in 2009 after two years of Trian board involvement. Contrast these companies with State Street, which rejected Trian’s breakup and board-seat demands and has handsomely outperformed the S&P 500 (129.5% to 80.5%) over the past four years—without Trian’s help.

Even better returns were available to those who invested in companies that activists sought to topple. Suppose on Jan. 1, 2010, you put $100 each in DuPont, an S&P 500 mutual fund and Trian. Your investment in DuPont would be worth roughly $240 today. Your S&P 500 fund would be worth roughly $200. And your investment in Trian would we worth roughly $190. DuPont’s returns handily beat those of Trian in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Mr. Peltz now is waging a costly, distracting proxy battle to break up DuPont to deliver short-term gains while demanding he personally have a seat on the company’s board. This despite Trian’s poor showing versus DuPont and the latter’s recent hiring of two new directors, Edward Breen and James Gallogly, two former CEOs and tough industrialists whom Mr. Peltz unsuccessfully solicited in 2014 to serve on Trian’s board of directors.

Given DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman’s success since taking the reins in 2009, it’s not surprising that Trian’s assault has been thwarted. Nevertheless, DuPont has offered to accept a current Trian board nominee—other than Mr. Peltz—out of respect for Trian’s 3% stake.

As Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White said in a March 19 speech at Tulane University’s Corporate Law Institute: “Reflexively painting all activism negatively is... using too broad a brush and indeed is counterproductive.” Activists and their target companies, she said, should “step away from gamesmanship and inflammatory rhetoric that can harm companies and shareholders alike.”

But with activist funds now boasting $120 billion under management—up 30% in the past year—there is no harm in asking what their own investors are getting back. The most aggressive activists court governance advocates and state pension funds with costly media campaigns against target companies that, paradoxically, outperform them. Perhaps they should be more active in raising their own shareholder value.

Mr. Sonnenfeld is a professor of management and senior associate dean of leadership studies at the Yale School of Management.

Zach Clayton: Building Business the Right Way

From ZacharyClayton.com, posted March 31, 2015

Someone recently asked me if it was a disadvantage that Three Ships didn’t have venture capitalists. I laughed and thought about something Jim Goodnight, Founder of SAS, once told me. “I didn’t know what venture capital was when I started SAS,” he said and then paused dramatically. With a big grin, he then pronounced: “I’m sure glad I didn’t.”

Forty years and $3 billion in revenue run rate later, Goodnight is surely happy to be in control of his destiny. SAS constantly graces the Fortune 500 “Best Place to Work” list and has grown steadily, decade after decade. He doesn’t have to justify to external investors that making investments in employees leads to better results – he just knows that is the case. When managers think like investors (and investors think like managers), good things can happen.

There are entirely appropriate times to partner with institutional capital. Great companies such as Apple, Google, and Intel all had venture capitalists as backers. However, the wrong type of institutional capital can lead to many kinds of short-term pressures that distort management’s ability to create great long-term results (e.g. “cut R&D to increase margins,” “under-hire to show profit growth –  even if it burns everyone out”). In my own career, I’ve seen the destructive effects of how private equity or venture capital firms can let short-termism creep in, creating unnatural moments for the business.

Here are some principles I thought about when crafting the 3S trajectory:

  • We’re creating something that is built-to-last, not built-to-flip. Shareholders, customers, and employees are all better off if the company never needs to sell. If we’re truly building for the long-term, we don’t need an “exit strategy.” (And this increases the odds that if we ever do sell, it’s only for a great financial offer that is a fit.)
  • Sustainable success offers the luxury of an “infinite runway”. If we are working hard, delivering value to customers, having fun, and growing… we will have an attitude of “Hey, why would we want to sell?” Again, this mindset increases the odds of either great return from continued ownership or a great exit.
  • My goal is creating something great, not finance a great lifestyle. Our current approach of “no dividends/distributions” is a signal that everyone (management, investors, and me) are focused on building a company that has a long-term growth trajectory. The digital marketing transformation will accelerate over the next 10 years and we’re just scratching the surface of the market.

Marketing tech is a very hot space – not just because of high valuations, but because of high customer demand that is fueling growth. But the bigger and more exciting opportunity (in my view), is to build a business the right way.

TRUST Magazine: Trust As The Essence Of Leadership

I am honored to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from Trust Across America. Authenticity and trust go hand in hand. My full article on Trust as the Essence of Leadership can be viewed here and full text below. 

Trust is the essence of leadership – the coin of the realm. Unless people build trust with their colleagues, they cannot gain legitimacy to lead, nor can they empower others.

Recent studies have shown that only half of Americans trust their leaders. Since the 2008-09 global financial crisis, many Americans have lost trust in their leaders and the institutions they lead.

Gaining the trust of people is essential for every leader. Leaders cannot be effective without full confidence of the constituencies that grant their institution its legitimacy, nor can capitalism function without trust.

No matter how effective your strategy, your vision, or your communication, you will fail to achieve the desired results for your organization if you cannot inspire trust as a leader. Lack of trust in your leadership will cause your team to fear failure, resulting in less risk-taking, and therefore, less innovation. Building a culture of trust starts with you. You must quell fears of organizational power by exhibiting authentic behavior that inspires trust and fosters an open, safe environment.

To be worthy of trust, leaders must have a clear sense of their True North – the purpose of their leadership and the essence of their beliefs, their values and the principles by which they lead. If they stay on course of their True North and do not deviate under pressure, then they can build trust among colleagues and legitimacy among all their constituencies.

What’s required are new leaders who are grounded in authenticity, relationships, and emotional intelligence. To gain trust, they must be genuine, sincere, transparent, and true to their word. People sense who is authentic and who is not. Only when they are authentic will people grant them the support they need to lead organizations.

To strengthen the trust and confidence in America’s leaders, we need a new leadership mindset and a new breed of leaders, with five characteristics in common:

  1. They should be authentic leaders, focused on serving their clients and all the institution’s constituents, rather than charismatic leaders seeking money, fame, and power for themselves.
  2. They should place the interests of their institutions and society as a whole above their own interests.
  3. They should have the integrity to tell the whole truth, admit their mistakes, and acknowledge their shortcomings. Authentic leadership is not about being perfect. It is having the courage to admit when you’re wrong and to get on with solving problems, rather than covering them up.
  4. They need to adapt quickly to new realities, changing themselves as well as their institutions, rather than going into denial when things don’t go as intended. 
  5. They need the resilience to bounce back after devastating losses. Resilience enables leaders to restore trust by empowering people to create new solutions that build great institutions for the future.

Earning trust requires significant time and effort, and must come from a place of authenticity. Trust cannot be faked. You cannot become a trusted leader by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else.

Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Be transparent with your team, even when the truth may be unpopular or inconvenient. Don’t punish those who bring you bad news. Encourage risk-taking and celebrate “good failures” as opportunities to learn and move forward.

Remember: trust starts with you but it is a win-win for everyone. 

Value Walk - More Voices Call For Ouster Of CEO Costolo

From Value Walk, December 29, 2014

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo for long has been questioned over his leadership abilities by many of the critics, and the latest to join the list is Bill George, a professor at Harvard Business School. They all are of the opinion that Costolo should resign from the position of CEO, and make space for someone worthy.

Twitter needs a new team

On Friday, George said on CNBC that the company needs a new team at the top and therefore Costolo should resign. George made Costolo’s comparison with the other biggies like Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of social networking giant Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and with Larry Page CEO of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). Harvard professor said that Costolo is not at par with these names, and hence should step down allowing a better person to acquire the position. However, he did expressed his liking for the micro-blogging site, and said that he visits the site five times a day on a regular basis.

In an interview that lasted for few minutes, eight distinct complaints were put forward by the former CEO of Medtronic, George. The CEO of the medical device technology company said that with the losses that the company is making, it was not possible for the Street to stay with them for long. After the statement, he tweeted, “Time for new leadership @twitter; otherwise TWTR loses out to Facebook and Google.”

Time running for Costolo

Besides George, there are few others as well, who feel the need for Costolo to exit. Last week, Robert Peck, an analyst at SunTrust predicted that Costolo would exit the company in less than a year’s time. The news spread like fire, and the impact was clearly visible on the stock price, which was on the decline since the start of the year. This year the stock had registered a decline of 41%, but the news sent it up by 3.6%.

For the third-quarter, Twitter posted a revenue of $361 million up 114% on YoY basis. The same growth could not be seen in the number of active users while rival Instagram is stealing all the limelight. Facebook has more than 1.35 billion monthly active users while Twitter has no more than 284 million.

Twitter will report its next quarterly results on Feb. 5, and if the company fails again to meet the subscriber growth estimates, then the voices calling for the exit of Costolo will only get louder.

Tech Insider: Twitter Inc Is Almost Against Advertising: Bill George

From Tech Insider, December 28, 2014

There seems to be no end to calls for resign of Twitter Inc CEO Dick Costolo. Investors, experts and shareholders are demanding Costolo to resign as he was unable to run the company successfully. In a recent development, Bill George, a senior Harvard Professor has said that Twitter Inc’s CEO could not run the company in the right way. He thinks that the Costolo has not the right repo, PR and fame like a CEO should have, CNBC reported.

George thinks that Dick Costolo does not maintain the right skills that are needed in a CEO of a big tech company. He gave the example of Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg and said that these people have a grip and innovative approach towards the product curve whereas Twitter Inc’s CEO does not understand the product dynamics. George also thinks that Twitter Inc CEO has an ‘inflexible approach’ that is a major hurdle in the way of product innovation and growth.

George said that there must be a change in the upper management of Twitter Inc. The management has been getting rid of the excellent product development team and hiring the new guys which haven’t proven themselves.

The professor thinks that Twitter Inc is almost against advertising, which is a key revenue stream in the modern tech business. Twitter Inc faced a tough year 2014. Many developers and executives left the company. There were many embarrassing slippages, lack of innovation and monotonous interface updates, which have forced the investors and users to ask Twitter Inc’s current CEO to resign.

New York Times DealBook - When Activist Investors Aim at Strong Companies

From New York Times DealBook, November 20, 2014

Activist investors have the “hot hand” these days. Their calls to break up companies have attracted growing attention, and their hedge funds continue to add new capital. Bill Ackman, for example, netted more than $2 billion on his investment in Allergan. He pressured its board to sell to Valeant, but profited even though the company was ultimately sold to Actavis. Carl Icahn challenged Apple’s cash hoard, while Mr. Ackman dislodged Robert McDonald as chief executive of Procter & Gamble. Chief executives are concerned that their company may be next.

Fueled by growing funds under management and emboldened by media coverage, the activists have recently shifted their focus to targeting America’s best companies. Why are activists pursuing those companies instead of moribund companies on the wrong track? The lofty strategic rhetoric of the investors notwithstanding, they are looking for quick gains. This may net handsome profits in the short-term, but it places the competitiveness of America’s great global companies at risk.

Let’s examine four situations among some of America’s best companies — Amgen, PepsiCo, DuPont, and Allergan — to see where activists have it wrong.

Amgen Under the leadership of Kevin Sharer and Bob Bradway, Amgen has been a stellar performer. In the past five years, its stock has increased 185 percent. Apparently dissatisfied with this performance, Mr. Loeb wants to break up the company. Break it up? It’s all one business. Centralized research and development fuels innovation that results in a steady array of breakthrough drugs. Amgen has exceptionally high net income margins of 27 percent and generates $6 billion a year in free cash flow, even after investing 22 percent of its revenues in research. Mr. Loeb’s idea of splitting older drugs from newer drugs would destroy one of America’s most productive innovators by taking away the cash it needs to develop new drugs, meet patient needs and fuel the company’s growth.

PepsiCo When she became chief executive in 2006, Indra Nooyi foresaw the need for healthy foods and beverages — trends currently sweeping the globe — and devised a long-term strategy to broaden PepsiCo’s portfolio. Pepsi’s performance the past three years has been exceptional. Its 52 percent stock price increase is double that of its archrival, Coca-Cola, which is trapped in a single-minded strategy focused on carbonated soft drinks and bottled water. Nevertheless, the activist investor Nelson Peltz is agitating to split PepsiCo in two, just as he did with Kraft. But both Kraft and its spin-out, Mondelez, are struggling.

DuPont Perhaps stung by his inability to influence PepsiCo, now Mr. Peltz is trying to break DuPont into three pieces. Has he not studied what the chief executive, Ellen Kullman, has been doing the past five years? When she took over in 2009, 200-year-old DuPont was a disjointed conglomerate without a clear strategy. Its stock had declined 62 percent since 2000. Ms. Kullman immediately went to work to reshape DuPont’s portfolio for the future, spinning off slow growth, low-margin businesses like performance chemicals and coatings. Now, DuPont is focused on three high-growth, high-margin businesses: agriculture and nutrition, biotechnology and advanced materials. Ms. Kullman is using DuPont’s vaunted central research labs to drive innovation in all three sectors. Her strategy is working. The company’s stock has increased 250 percent since she took the reins.

Allergan Bill Ackman successfully partnered with Valeant’s chief executive, Mike Pearson, to put Allergan in play and ultimately force its sale to Actavis, but why was that warranted in the first place? Since David Pyott joined Allergan in 1998 as chief executive, he created a more than 2,400 percent increase in Allergan’s stock. Allergan spends 17 percent of its revenues on research and development. These smart research investments have sustained the company’s high growth rate. Valeant’s strategy was to cut Allergan’s research spending to 3 percent of revenues, lower its taxes from 34 percent to 3 percent, and eliminate its executive team — which would ultimately make the company noncompetitive. For what purpose?

In contrast, an outside perspective can be a powerful catalyst for improvement at performing companies that are not performing well. Ralph Whitworth of Relational Investors helped save Home Depot by unseating its chief executive, Bob Nardelli, in favor of Frank Blake, leading to a decade of strong performance. Mr. Whitforth also turned around a dysfunctional board at Hewlett Packard, one that had previously fired three successive chief executives. Likewise, Jeff Ubben of the hedge fund Value Act Capital Management pressured the Microsoft board for change after 14 years of marginal leadership by Steve Ballmer. Since Satya Nadella took over last February, the tech giant’s stock has jumped 75 percent.

But in the case of strong companies with effective managements, activist attacks are enormously distracting. Executives focus on saving their companies and short-term financial moves, instead of winning global competitive battles, creating great products and building new businesses.

Trying to break up great companies only weakens one of America’s greatest competitive advantages: the leadership, strength, and adaptability of its global companies. The activists should keep their focus on the underperformers, and work to build the next set of great companies like Amgen, PepsiCo, DuPont and Allergan.

Bloomberg Video - Activists Going After America's Best

Why are activists going after America's best companies instead of trying to help the worst? Here are my thoughts on Bloomberg Market Makers: Video

CNBC: Google shacks up with Equinix for cloud boost

From CNBC, November 5, 2014

For the 100 billion Internet searches and more than 6 billion hours of YouTube videos streamed monthly, Google is building supersized data centers across the globe. But for certain functions, the company is better off using other people's property.

Equinix, which operates more than 100 data centers in 32 metro areas worldwide, is announcing on Wednesday that Google will be using its facilities to help clients in 15 markets, including New York, Atlanta, Frankfurt, Germany, and Hong Kong, access Google's business applications and cloud infrastructure.

The Google cloud needs all the help it can get. While the Mountain View, California-based company dominates the online advertising market, it's playing catch-up to Amazon Web Services in on-demand cloud computing as it also battles Microsoft's Azure technology.

The three companies are engaged in a brutal price war as they try to lure businesses looking to offload their computing and storage instead of handling it internally. Amazon and Microsoft are already Equinix customers. Now businesses can use any or all of them via Equinix.

"This completes our access to the big three cloud providers," said Equinix Chief Technology Officer Ihab Tarazi. Businesses can "get significantly higher bandwidth for very low economics and be able to completely leverage the cloud."

Google disclosed the deal with Equinix on Tuesday as one of several announcements tied to its cloud platform. The company also introduced Google Container Engine and a partnership with Docker to make it easier to create and manage applications across machines.

It's all part of Google's deeper dive into the world of business software, and it's not cheap. In the third quarter, Google spent $2.4 billion on capital expenditures, largely on data center construction and real estate costs.

"Everybody's moving their infrastructures to the cloud," Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette said on the earnings call last month. "It is an area where we have fundamentally great assets to contribute to this industry, both in terms of the flexibility, the cost structure, the technology. And that's why we're investing heavily in there."

Google owns and operates 12 data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, according to its website. Much of the software that Google as well as Amazon and Facebook have developed to bolster the speed and capacity of servers and databases is being replicated across the technology industry.

But that doesn't mean corporate America is ready to spin all of its most critical data up to the public cloud. Using Equinix, they can plug into the power of Google's infrastructure without relying on it entirely.

Equinix has more than 4,500 customers using its facilities. In April, the Redwood City, California-based company launched a service called Cloud Exchange to provide an added layer of security and enhanced connectivity for businesses that may have previously been reluctant to move applications to the cloud.