By Elizabeth G. Olson
FORTUNE -- Exposing fibs, exaggerations and indiscretions -- routinely used to undercut or derail political careers -- is migrating to the corporate world as a new tactic for unhappy shareholder activists to win changes they seek in the executive suite.
Disclosure of a falsehood in Yahoo (YHOO) chief executive Scott Thompson's resume resulted in his departure from the company, and put a new, more personal, face on tactics to effect corporate shake-ups. A noticeable number of top-level executives have been booted when skewed relationships with subordinates came to light, and others have been felled by professional failings.
But exposing discrepancies in Thompson's academic record provides a new avenue for activist investors and hedge funds to root around in past professional, academic, and perhaps even personal, events or omissions to ferret out discrepancies.
"It's a new tactic because typically it's been boards that uncovered fabrications rather than shareholders," says Paul Hodgson, senior researcher for GMIRatings, a corporate governance research firm.
Corporate governance experts say that delving into executive backgrounds -- personal and otherwise -- is fair game.
"Anything that goes to the integrity of the individual is appropriate to examine, whether it was a mistake or an intention to deceive," says Robert McCormick, chief policy officer of Glass Lewis, a San Francisco-based proxy advisor. "His degree is part of a skill set that he brought to the job."
Christopher Bayer, co-founder and blogger at TheShareholderActivist.com, says Thompson's dissembling was "a complete violation of confidence and a betrayal. Trust is priceless, and today there is no room for error. The public is not forgiving." More
Why do leaders risk so much over what, in the grand scheme of things, is a small dishonesty? By Katherine Reynolds LewisMay 16, 2012 2:37 PM ET
Companies spar with activist investors all the time without as much spite. It's time for Yahoo to put aside the theatrics and focus on pulling off a turnaround. By Shelley DuBoisShelley DuBois, writer-reporter - May 14, 2012 12:16 PM ET
Here are three ways in which companies can avoid a Yahoo-like debacle. By Dennis Carey, Melanie Kusin, and Jane StevensonMay 10, 2012 9:46 AM ET
With CEO Scott Thompson's embarrassing resume problems, the company may need to go back on the hunt for a savior. By Shelley DuBoisShelley DuBois, writer-reporter - May 7, 2012 5:30 AM ET
As activist shareholders -- at Yahoo and elsewhere -- gain prominence, corporate management ought to take notice now if they don't want to hand over the reins. By Shelley DuBoisApr 2, 2012 10:46 AM ET
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