Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Deal: Did blogger Jackson help Icahn?

[Posted on March 27, 2008 at 3:42 PM]
By Ron Orol

Two months after Carl Icahn failed to have his nominee elected in a proxy contest at Motorola Inc. in 2007, YouTube video blogger Eric Jackson jumped into the fray. His activism strategy used a YouTube video he dubbed "Plan B for Motorola" and an Internet Wiki to attract support from other micro-investors like himself. Like Icahn, Jackson wanted Motorola CEO Ed Zander gone, much of the board replaced and a new head of Mobile Devices with a clear strategy.

When the company revealed major financial problems in its second quarter 2007 financials two days later, Jackson says his effort began receiving major support. He got the backing of roughly 150 investors with about $600,000 in shares, less than 1% but significant nonetheless.

"They didn't move quickly enough, so starting late last year, we started saying that the best course of action, given the extent of the problems in the company, was to break it up," Jackson says.

And while Icahn's two-year public prodding is certainly the major reason why Motorola decided Wednesday it will split into two independent, publicly traded companies, Jackson's novel approach to activism is lifting eyebrows. Anne Faulk, chief executive of Swingvote Inc. in Atlanta, says Jackson may be the vanguard of how shareholders and executives communicate with each other. Certainly, some of Jackson's goals -- having Motorola executive Ed Zander resign and seeing that the company divide into two units -- have been accomplished.

The same can be said of Jackson's efforts last year at his first YouTube activist campaign at Yahoo! Inc., which also has gone through serious changes since his insurgency began. Jackson sent out a "Yahoo! Plan B" YouTube video and later launched a "just vote no" campaign to persuade shareholders of the widely used Santa Clara, Calif.-based portal to expel its CEO, Terry Semel, from his chairmanship along with six others on the company's 10-person board. He also set up a blog, "Breakout Performance," a account and a LinkedIn Web site to spread dissent.

Semel later did resign, and now Microsoft Corp. has a $31 a share, or $44.6 billion offer on the table.

With the stock of Motorola still low at around $10 a share, don't expect Jackson to end his insurgency just yet. In February Jackson launched a $2 million activist fund, Ironfire Capital LLC. Even with few dollars behind him, corporations should beware of Jackson's YouTube "Plan B." - Ron Orol

See Breakout Performance
See Jackson's YouTube page
See the Motorola Wiki

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