Laurel Hill Advisory Group
An Interview With Dr. William J. Catacosinos, Chairman, Laurel Hill Advisory Group
“We are putting out a very consistent message: We’re here…We are battle seasoned... And we are strong…”
The Optimizer: It’s been a year since we last interviewed you, Doctor. Tell us about what’s new at Laurel Hill, and how things are going.
Dr. Catacosinos: We have been putting out a very consistent message: We’re here: We are battle seasoned…And we are strong. In Canada, for example, where activist investors have been considerably more active than they’ve been in the U.S. of late, we’ve handled ten proxy fights in 2011 – and won all of them. We have been broadening our range of services in Canada: We added a new person in Vancouver, we have great salespeople – and we have a superb operating group up there. My son Jamie spends one week out of every two in Canada. This ‘gem’ continues to shine, and to grow.
Optimizer: The theme of this year’s magazine is “Getting your message across to investors” – and we notice that you seem to be putting out a very robust stream of messages to the financial community here in the U.S. as well. How has this been “getting across” so far?
Dr. C: We have been working very hard to overcome a lot of the misinformation that had been going around about our commitment to these businesses. Certainly, competition has never been keener – but I think we are exactly where we need to be now. Francis Byrd’s Byrd Watch column is very widely read, and he, and his column, are widely quoted. Francis, as you know, knows everybody who’s everybody in the corporate governance space. He’s very honest and very plain spoken – and he is tough, which sometimes takes people by surprise. Recently, for example, he held his ground against one of the best-known lawyers in the world of corporate governance, who grilled him fiercely – and who ended up very impressed, for sure. We have also been sponsoring, and speaking at a wide variety of industry events, as you note, and we will continue to do so.
The Optimizer: What are your thoughts about the big proxy issues for 2012?
Dr. C: Say on pay is here to stay, for sure. And it will, increasingly, become a target for activists. It has already opened the door for the plaintiffs’ bar – which quickly become yet another “wedge” for activists to get their way on governance matters. But many companies have not yet fully bought in, I think. Note well: Companies will be punished for pay practices that are perceived to be weak – and for weak disclosure.
As to Proxy Access, more and more companies will have to set up some sort of policy here – starting with the major companies. But this will trickle down rather quickly to mid-cap and smaller companies, I think. I’ve been on several boards where board members said, “Don’t pay any attention to this kind of nonsense” – often because the company was small, and fairly closely held. But that is not a smart attitude for any company today.
Optimizer: What are YOUR top tips on “Getting your message across to investors?”
Dr. C: Be consistent. Be clear. And be concise. But also, realize that you have to attract the attention of the viewer: I know that you are a big fan of our “visuals” – all of which we produce totally in-house. And we do find them to be big attention-getters.
The Optimizer: Any final thoughts here that you’d like to share with readers?
Dr. C: We have worked very hard to establish our name in the marketplace, and we are now looking to make even more headway – especially with large companies. It’s a battleground, of course. But we have developed a team of very senior people. We all pay very close attention to our business. We have a team that senior managers can really relate to – who are “not kids” – and, as I said earlier, we are battle-seasoned.