Tiny Activist Bluebell Quickly Becomes CEOs’ Worst Nightmare

Bluebell Capital Partners doesn’t have a Paul Singer or Bill Ackman at its helm, or billions of dollars to help bend companies to its will. Yet, the activist investor is swiftly becoming a nightmare for Europe’s corporate boardrooms.

Just this week, it helped engineer the ouster of food group Danone SA’s Chairman Emmanuel Faber in the region’s biggest management change of 2021. That came just shy of a year after Mark Langer resigned as chief executive officer of fashion house Hugo Boss AG following pressure from the London-based fund.

Bluebell has taken on at least nine companies since its launch in 2019, including the likes of German carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Italian banking group Mediobanca SpA. That’s fast and fearless work for a firm whose 70 million euros ($83.6 million) in assets might not typically spook boards built to fend off activist heavyweights like Elliott Management Corp. or Pershing Square Capital Management.

“Activism is changing in Europe,” Bluebell’s Chief Investment Officer Giuseppe Bivona said in an interview. “It’s not about size or proxy fight. It is about strategy, quality and collaboration among shareholders.”

Bivona co-founded Bluebell with fellow finance industry veteran Marco Taricco and Francesco Trapani, who ran Italian jeweler Bulgari SpA for nearly three decades. Prior to that, the three spent years helping Elliott, Jana Partners and other activists execute campaigns in Europe and the U.S.

Right Changes

They are now using this experience and joining forces with other shareholders to amplify their influence at target companies. At Danone, investors including Artisan Partners Asset Management and Causeway Capital Management backed the message that change was needed at the very top of the company to improve performance.

Danone said Monday that Faber will stand down as chairman and CEO immediately, two weeks after he pledged to give up the latter position to appease investors like Bluebell that had pushed for a separation of the role. Gilles Schnepp, who previously led French electric device maker Legrand SA, has been named chairman at Danone. Schnepp was suggested for the job by Bluebell.

“France is generally considered as a very tough market for activism and we have proved that this is not necessarily the case when advocating for the right changes with a constructive long-term objective,” Bivona said.

Fertile Ground

Not all of Bluebell’s campaigns have focused on the removal of senior managers. Last year, the firm asked Vestas Wind Systems A/S to take full control of its offshore business. In October, the wind turbine giant said it would buy out its offshore joint venture partner. Bluebell also urged the Canadian government to block a deal between Cineworld Group Plc and Toronto-based cinema chain Cineplex Inc. In June, Cineworld terminated the transaction.

Bluebell’s other disclosed activist campaigns include those at Belgian chemicals company Solvay SA and Swiss asset manager GAM Holding AG.

“We have a number of companies underperforming, there’s a shortage of capital which makes it even more important for companies to be managed better in the interest of shareholders,” Bivona said.

“We definitely see there’s a more fertile ground for activism than before.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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