Why activist investing is not a fad: Meister

Activism's popular and it works: Keith Meister

Shareholder activism has proven to be a key tool for unlocking value, and while strategies may change over time, activists are not going anywhere, Keith Meister, CEO of Corvex, said Monday.

"Will activism change over the next several years? Of course it will, but the general concept of value investors having ideas, partnering with companies, expressing ideas and helping to create value—I don't think that is a fad. I think that's a multidecade thing," he said in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "Now, how it gets expressed at different times, I think that's the piece that changes."

Meister made his comments from the 13D Monitor Active-Passive Investor Summit in New York City.

He acknowledged that there may indeed be too much activism today, comparing the space to private equity in 2006 and 2007. He noted that while dealmaking has moderated since those years, the private equity players that have survived—such as Apollo Global Management, Blackstone and KKR—are now stronger and continue to create value through their investments.

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Activist investing has also prompted companies to think proactively about their long-term vision, he said.

"Other companies look around and say, 'How do we become the internal activist?' I hear lots of CEOs today say 'I'm the internal activist,'" he said. "That's actually really, really positive."

Meister disputed the idea that activist investing is inherently confrontational. While Corvex will not apologize for expressing its opinion or protecting its investments, he said, the firm tries to avoid fights, noting that it only waged one proxy contest in the 13 times it exercised its voting power during the last four years.

"In most of those situations we were hopefully self-selecting companies to invest in where we thought the management and the board were good actors," he said. "As much as the media wants to label it good guys against bad guys, I think we're all on the same team."

Most proud of Darden turnaround: Starboard's Smith

Jeff Smith, founder of Starboard Value, said his firm's experience shows that activists can have a productive relationship with management teams after winning concessions.

In October, Darden Restaurants replaced its entire board of directors after Starboard waged a campaign to expose missteps at the company and presented management and other investors with a 300-page plan of action. Since then, the Starboard-backed board has worked productively with management to implement that plan, Smith said.

"Some people fear when you get involved in a company if you replace a majority or even replace the whole thing that you might have this issue working with the management team. It's just not true," he said during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Alley."