Scott Thompson

Are companies ready for the new activist shareholder?

May 22, 2012: 10:11 AM ET

As we recently saw with Scott Thompson at Yahoo and at many annual meetings this proxy season, shareholders are raising their voices and many of them mean business. What's next?

Daniel Loeb

Third Point's Daniel Loeb

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.

MORE: Wal-Mart, J.P. Morgan, and the perils of ignoring shareholders

"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

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