Revolution is afoot in corporate Europe. Five years ago there were little more than mutterings about "fat cats" and "personal fiefdoms". But these have given way to a wave of activism that has extended from veteran corporate governance campaigners such as the Association of British Insurers to major investment institutions such as Schroders, Legal and General, Norwich Union and Standard Life. Even those not known for activism, such as American fund Fidelity International, have taken a stand.
Protests and action now span the globe. Fidelity spearheaded the Carlton-Granada revolt in the UK. The early departure of Lord Black as chief executive of Hollinger was largely credited to US-based investment company Tweedy Browne.
Targets have ranged from multinational media groups such as Hollinger to transport operator Eurotunnel, Dutch retailer Ahold and Norwegian oil firm DNO. All have felt the sting of shareholder discontent.
Investors both large and small have learnt the power of collective action. A review of shareholder action over the past two months alone (see panel, below) highlights a new willingness on the part of these investors to flex their muscles.
Their complaints concern directors who refuse to heed concerns, who trample on codes of good practice in corporate …