Box CEO Aaron Levie Weighs In On Starboard Value’s Shakeup Effort

September 5, 2019, 9:57 PM UTC

Box CEO Aaron Levie is looking at the bright side after activist investor Starboard Value bought a 7.5% stake in his business software firm and started agitating for a shakeup.

The hedge fund disclosed in a regulatory filing on Tuesday that it believes that Box’s shares were undervalued and that it would push for change, including “potential business combinations” — Wall Street lingo for a sale.

“In their statement they really just identified there’s upside in the stocks,” Levie said Thursday during a technology conference in San Francisco hosted by tech news site TechCrunch. “We’re super collaborative in these situations and we want to work with all of our investors.”

Box’s shares have fallen 37% since the company went public in 2015, and investors are worried that the company’s growth is slowing amid tough competition from tech giants like Google and Microsoft. Speaking about the resulting fluctuations in Box’s share price, Levie joked that “it’s sort of the graph of my heart rate.”

Levie remained calm when a moderator asked him about the potential ramifications of Starboard ownership in Box, saying that the company always listens to investors and is focused on growth. In a profile of Starboard’s CEO Jeffrey Smith in 2014, Fortune called him “the investor CEOs fear most.”

For example, in 2014, Smith was able to replace all 12 board members of Olive Garden parent company Darden Restaurants, claiming that the company wasn’t operating effectively. Starboard was also able to put Smith and three of his nominees onto Yahoo’s board in 2016; three months later, Yahoo said it would sell itself to Verizon for $4.83 billion.

Levie did not discuss possible Starboard-inspired management changes or any corporate deals. Instead, he emphasized that “in the case of Starboard there’s a belief that we’re undervalued right now,” and that Box is “extremely focused on growing and accelerating our growth rate.”

Box’s shares are undervalued, Levie said, partly because Wall Street has trouble understanding what the company does. It’s different from other tech companies like Salesforce, which disrupted the market for sales software by selling a cloud-based version.

Box started as a “single product company” selling online storage. But it has since introduced several other products like work collaboration tools and security features to safeguard corporate data, Levie said.

“That’s been perceived as confusing,” Levie said. “Frankly we have to do a much better job at educating the market.”

Ultimately, Levie believes Box’s product expansion is important for the company to grow, even if that means its shares consistently swing directions.

“We deeply care abut what shareholders are saying, but ultimately we care about building the business for the long run,” he said.

Levie also addressed the fact that he no longer has as much voting control of Box as he did before June, 2018 when the company ended its duel-class share system that gave Levie and insiders 10 times as many votes per share owned. When a moderator asked whether Levie now regretted the decision, he said, “If I did I probably won’t say it on stage.”

That said, Levie said that Box is no longer small and that “ultimately you have to take responsibility for shareholder value.”

“I think the dual-class thing is a bit of a distraction,” he added. 

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