Help Wanted: Activist (MBA Required)

Odds are, if you went through all the trouble of getting a top-tier business degree, worked 80 hours a week as an analyst at a bulge-bracket bank while you earned your MBA degree and your CFA designation, and are now looking to get on track for a managing director job, the last thing on your career calendar is to be an activist. Sorry, hippies, but Wall Street is already occupied and you can’t have it.

Still, an increasing number of investment banking jobs are tied to shareholder activism — on both sides of the fight. There are jobs to be had in the financial services industry for those who want to bring about change at publicly traded companies, and for those who want to stave it off.

Take for example the case of the FTSE 25o transportation company FirstGroup which, according to British news outlet The Telegraph, is now at least three percent owned by American activist hedge fund Sandell Asset Management. According to reporter Ben Martin, Sandell has kibitzed in the strategic decisions of other companies in which it holds a significant stake, such as Spectra Energy and Bob Evans Farms. Martin’s article speculated that Sandell might call for divestiture of FirstGroup’s non-core school bus business and for the head of CEO Martin Gilbert. So you can imagine, if you were Gilbert, or any other career executive at FirstGroup, your first instinct is to call up an investment bank requesting some air cover in the form of an anti-takeover team. (Gilbert had long since agreed to step down, but we’re sure he still preferred to pack his own parachute.)

A quick Web scan reveals that the no less formidable bank Goldman Sachs had posted a job opening for a shareholder activism associate in its M&A practice. Responsibilities included “to provide advice to internal teams and external clients regarding preparing for hostile activity, activism, corporate governance and shareholder related issues. The position includes creating presentations for clients and internal teams. The banker also will work on live raid defense and proxy fight defense situations; drive marketing and targeting initiatives; develop thought pieces on various topics.”

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Shareholder activism isn’t a new thing, of course. It’s been around, no doubt, since the first share-issuing enterprise held its first annual meeting. But lately there’s been an uptick in return on — and thus participation in — event-driven strategy as an investment driver. A recent Credit Suisse report cited in Pension & Investments suggests that, as of the end of August 2013, event-driven hedge funds have returned 8.6% to investors year-to-date, or more than double that of all hedge funds tracked, which can bring out the busybody in any of us. And it’s not just hedge funds that are placing these bets. No less, a buy side behemoth as Fidelity Investments is getting into the act, according to Investment News.

So whether your intention is to be on the buy side, the sell side or the advice side, this could be a wave to ride for the next, oh, well, until people start leaving other people alone to do their jobs.

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