Nelson Peltz hates being called an activist, let alone a corporate raider.
The longtime financier, who has made his name investing in companies like Heinz and DuPont and agitating for change, prefers to think of himself as a "constructivist," someone who doesn't necessarily seek to break up a company, but rather to bolster its operations and corporate structure.
"The activists play the balance sheet by selling a division to buy back stock and leveraging the balance sheet and buying back more stock," he once told Fortune magazine. "Any M.B.A. can do that. And most Wall Streeters do do that. We improve the earnings power of the company. Our background is in operations, not in Wall Street."
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To Mr. Peltz, this approach not only sounds friendlier: He believes he is friendlier. He will occasionally try to get others to describe him simply as a "highly engaged shareholder."
It's all part of Mr. Peltz's effort to convince managements — and other shareholders — that he is not a quick-buck artist. With that reassurance, his thinking goes, they will welcome him into the room, and often onto the board of directors, with open arms.
"'Activist,' unfortunately, has taken on some negative connotations, and I really mean unfortunately," he lamented at a conference last fall about the activist moniker and how he shouldn't be labeled such.
On Monday, he made his latest play — starting what has been described as the biggest proxy contest in history — by seeking a seat on the board of Procter & Gamble.
And true to form, Mr. Peltz, whose asset management firm is called Trian Partners, couched his effort as friendly. On the first page of a 22-page presentation, he listed a series of bullet points about "what Trian is not pushing for." Among them: "NOT advocating for the breakup of the Company; NOT suggesting that the C.E.O. be replaced; NOT seeking to replace directors."
And yet, chief executives should take note that Mr. Peltz's playbook is often the same: He makes a large, multibillion-dollar investment in a company and tells those in management that he supports them. He then tells them that he wants to meet with them because he has a couple of suggestions, some tweaks here and there. Then he shows up with a "white paper," a thick deck of charts and numbers about changes he would like to see made. When the company fails to make the changes or take his suggestions seriously, he seeks to oust the chief executive or break up the company.