G. Mason Morfit’s exit closes the book on a five-year effort to pressure Microsoft to take steps to boost its market value for the benefit of shareholders. Mission accomplished.
Microsoft’s brush with an activist investor is coming to an end.
G. Mason Morfit, president of ValueAct Capital, will leave Microsoft’s board of directors at the end of the year, the company said, closing the book on a five-year effort to pressure the software maker to take steps to boost its market value for the benefit of shareholders.
When ValueAct announced in April 2013 that it had amassed more than 65 million Microsoft shares, a stake of roughly 1 percent in the company, Microsoft’s stock was trading at less than $30 a share.
On Tuesday, the company’s stock stood at $75.44 a share.
ValueAct has been trimming its holdings. It sold 7 million shares this summer in a more than $500 million sale that shrank the company’s holdings to about 9 million shares.
Morfit, who in May took on a larger role at ValueAct as chief investment officer, will not stand for re-election to Microsoft’s board, the company said on Tuesday. His term expires in November.
“Mason has been a valuable adviser at an important time in Microsoft’s transformation, and we are grateful for his contributions,” Microsoft board Chairman John Thompson said in a statement.
The company said it had appointed Hugh Johnston, chief financial officer of Pepsi, to its board, effective immediately.
A Microsoft spokesman declined further comment on the company’s board changes, and ValueAct didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
As an activist investor, San Francisco-based ValueAct aims to exert influence on companies’ governance rather than sit on its investments and hope for the best.
When ValueAct came calling at Microsoft, the company was in a funk, as misses in smartphones and internet applications saw the company lose influence to rivals such as Apple and Google. Its stock price languished for more than a decade after the dot-com bust.
Four months after announcing its stake in Microsoft, ValueAct secured a deal with the company that gave it an option to occupy a board seat.
Morfit joined the company’s governing council in March 2014, a month after Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer as CEO.
Some speculated that ValueAct may have sped Ballmer’s exit. Ballmer has said that wasn’t the case.
Microsoft in recent years has sharpened its focus, eliminating much of its failing smartphone unit and streamlining its approach in areas like internet services as it focused on web-delivered business software.
Microsoft also continued a streak of shareholder-friendly policies. reaching into its cash hoard for payments to investors.
During the last three fiscal years, Microsoft has spent $38.3 billion buying back its own stock, and $32.7 billion in dividends paid to shareholders. (The company’s cumulative net income during that period was $50.1 billion).
In the news release announcing Morfit’s departure, Microsoft also said its board had approved a 7.6 percent increase in its dividend, to 42 cents a share.