Jeffrey Ubben: The Kinder, Gentler Activist
Financial heavyweights like Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman have become known for their aggressive, take-no-prisoners dynamic. Jeffrey Ubben, in contrast, chose a different path to riches – and it’s his lack of aggression that’s so striking.
Having graduated from Duke University in the 1980s, Jeffrey Williams Ubben went on to earn an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1987. His first job in finance spanned eight years, from 1987 to 1995, during which Jeffrey managed the Fidelity Value Fund at Fidelity Investments.
Mr. Ubben’s next role was at Blum Capital, where he served as their managing partner from 1995 to 2000. Throughout the years, Jeffrey Ubben has also held management-level positions at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Catalina Marketing Corp., Gartner Group, Mentor Corporation, Misys PLC, Sara Lee Corp., Twenty-First Century Fox, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, and Willis Towers Watson PLC, among others.
In the year 2000, Jeffrey Ubben co-founded ValueAct Capital, a hedge fund based in San Francisco, California; he serves as the firm’s chief executive officer and chief investment officer. ValueAct Capital manages $15 billion, has made over 90 core investments, and is known for taking highly active roles in companies that may appear to be out of favor or may be undergoing a significant transition.
To complement his roles in business, Mr. Ubben serves on the boards of Duke University, Northwestern University, and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation; is a contributing member to The World Economic Forum
What sets Jeffrey Ubben apart is his knack for making changes that quickly generate value – and forgoing anything that detracts from the company’s core business. Zeroing in on the business’ foundation allows the company to become stronger and more valuable in a relatively short period of time.
As Mr. Ubben puts it: “We can make money just by focusing on the core business and getting rid of the distraction of peripheral businesses.” Furthermore, “you don’t have to find a new market; you don’t have to come up with a new product even. You just have to refocus.”
Another piece of the puzzle for Jeffrey Ubben is really getting to know his company’s investments – a hands-on approach that might earn Jeffrey the label of “activist shareholder.” Yet, for Mr. Ubben it’s the most natural way to do business: “It really is a profitable combination, this idea of someone that’s in the boardroom, that really understands the business, that has all the information... and then is a driver of the capital allocation process.”
Jeffrey Ubben has a unique relationship with the firms he works with. Unlike the more shark-like whales, Jeffrey makes decisions in the best interest of the company and the shareholders, offering direction and guidance in lieu of marching orders. Known for working with companies for years, Jeffrey and ValueAct Capital avoid public battles and act, in many ways, as an advocate for companies during their most challenging times.
Has his “friendlier” approach worked? Suffice it to say that from 2000 and 2015, Jeffrey and ValueAct Capital generated average annual net returns of 17%. We could also add that at age 51, Jeffrey Ubben attained a personal net worth of $400 million.
It just goes to show that one doesn’t need to be in attack mode to win in the investing game. It’s a lesson taught by example: When Jeffrey Ubben invests in a business – not just his capital, but his heart and soul – everybody profits.