Activist Investor ValueAct Takes Stake in The New York Times
ValueAct, an activist investor that has taken stakes in major companies including Microsoft, Reuters and 21st Century Fox, said on Thursday that it had bought nearly 7 percent of The New York Times Company’s common stock and would push for changes to some of the publisher’s business operations.
The purchase of the stock, made public in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday, makes ValueAct one of the largest shareholders in The Times, alongside Vanguard and BlackRock Fund Advisors. The Times is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family, which limits the influence outside investors have on the company.
Shares of The Times, which are down about 27 percent year to date, jumped more than 10 percent on news of ValueAct’s investment, which was first reported by Bloomberg.
In a letter to its investors on Thursday, ValueAct said it had conducted research that showed many consumers were not aware that The Times sells a bundled subscription to its products, which include news, games, a cooking app and the sports publication The Athletic. ValueAct said that created a potential growth opportunity.
“This is an opportunity we believe management needs to drive with urgency, as it is the biggest lever to accelerate growth, deepen NYT’s competitive moat, and ensure the long-term strength and stability of the platform,” ValueAct said in the letter, according to a person with knowledge of its contents.
The Times now has 9.17 million paid subscribers. It has a goal of signing up 15 million by the end of 2027.
The Times Company has a dual-class share structure. The shares used to elect the majority of the company’s board, called Class B, are owned by a trust for the Ochs-Sulzberger family. The family has controlled the business since Adolph Ochs purchased it in 1896. The 13-person board is chaired by A.G. Sulzberger, who is also the publisher of The Times.
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokeswoman, said in a statement that members of the company’s management team have held conversations with ValueAct to exchange views.
“The board and management team will continue to make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the company and all company shareholders,” Ms. Ha said in the statement.
Unlike some other activist investors — like Carl Icahn, who made a name for himself with bruising courtroom battles — ValueAct has a track record of investing in companies over a long period and working with management behind the scenes. Often it seeks out companies, like Adobe and Microsoft, that are in the middle of changing their business models.
Activist investors have been increasingly willing to take stakes in companies with dual-class structures like The Times. The activist firm Elliott Management revealed a position in the social media company Pinterest in August, and the activist firm Blackwells Capital pushed for the ouster of the chief executive of Peloton, John Foley, this spring.
The Times has dealt with activist investors before. In 2008, the hedge funds Harbinger Capital Partners and Firebrand Partners told the company they intended to nominate four independent directors to the publisher’s board. It ultimately struck a deal with the investment firms, offering up two board seats.