Monday, May 01, 2006

Merger-Hostile CEO

Surprising news this morning that Autostrade's CEO, Vito Gamberale, is now opposing the company's acquisition by Spain's Abertis. Surprising not only because you simply don't expect to see such things in any merger, let alone one where the target sells for over $10 billion, but also because Gamberale was publicly touting the deal last week.

What could possibly explain this behavior? It's not unheard of for a board to push for a deal the CEO doesn't like, and that may have been the case here, with the Benetton family controlling a majority of Autostrade. It's certainly odd that Gambarele apparantly did not even know the negotiations were going on until the 11th hour. However, you'd expect owners and CEOs to work these details out before the deal is announced, with the CEO falling in line or leaving. Now Gamberele likely will leave, but only after an ugly public spat. This seems like a worst-case scenario for all concerned - the guys at Abertis have got to be pulling their hair out.

It does bring to mind one aspect of executive compensation that you don't hear much about: Does the absence of a nice equity payout on closing of a merger make company management more hostile to deals that are otherwise in shareholders' interests? In other words, are some executives more concerned about keeping their jobs (or roles) than maximizing shareholder value? I have never witnessed this phenomenon firsthand (although I have seen it in spades among rank-and-file workers), but it would not be a shocker if Gamberale had a different agenda than the Benettons for this reason.

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