$100 million war chest ready to make trouble


Miles Staude

Miles Staude and (inset) Chris Cuffe.

Don’t be fooled by the quiet demeanour and good manners, this 37-year-old doesn’t mind creating the occasional drama at a shareholder meeting.

The Sydney-born Miles Staude, who led one of the most audacious campaigns to gain a seat on the board of a Macquarie fund, has been back in Australia raising $100 million for an activist investment fund that he plans for the ASX next month.

And the chief activist from the London investment manager Metage Capital has attracted some of the local fund management industry’s biggest names on to the board of the Global Value Fund. His fellow directors include the former Colonial First State and Challenger chief executive Chris Cuffe and prominent board agitator and Wilson Asset Management chairman Geoff Wilson. The company is chaired by the former Freehills partner Jonathan Trollip.

A recent presentation from Metage reflects Staude’s well-groomed and politely spoken persona. “Engaging proactively with companies, boards and other shareholders is an essential element in the value extraction proposition. A tool we use judiciously, but with force,’’ said the presentation about its strategy to challenge and sometimes roll company boards.

Of the 140 different investments it has made over the past two years, Metage noted how “15 required direct actions to bring about change”.

It is nearly two years since Staude called a shareholder meeting to have himself — and two other hedge-fund managers — appointed to the board of the Singapore-listed Macquarie International Infrastructure Fund.

Their campaign included running newspaper ads highlighting the fund’s shortcomings, along with the excess fees charged by its manager Macquarie.

While Staude didn’t get a seat on the MIIF board, the fund buckled to pressure by changing its fee arrangements with its manager Macquarie and paying a one-off special dividend to shareholders. Staude explained to BizCon yesterday he believed his strategy relied more on persuasion than brawn.

“The way I went into this thing was to have the best argument,’’ said the former mining analyst in relation to his clash with Macquarie.

To help Global Value Fund along, Wilson will chip in $1 million and Cuffe $100,000. Cuffe’s involvement with Global Value could also see him develop the reputation as an activist himself. For one, he chairs the fund manager UniSuper which is agitating against Westfield Retail Trust’s plans to merge its assets with Westfield Group’s Australian and New Zealand shopping centre assets.Sadly for locals who love a board spill, the GVF has signalled it is keen on pursuing overseas-listed companies despite being listed on the ASX.