Activist investors have been busy so far in 2023. Among c-store companies, that’s led to two c-store operators with large North American footprints, Parkland and Seven & i, facing calls for operational changes and board shake-ups this year to combat what the investors see as stock underperformance.
Oil majors BP and Shell have also faced pressure from shareholders, though these challenges have focused on the companies’ environmental track record and not their c-store operations.
With the number of investor challenges hitting a record level in the first quarter of 2023 according to the Financial Times, convenience retail isn’t the only industry seeing a lot of these pushes for change. The recent unrest among investors has a lot to do with the troubled economic times, said Luke Lango, senior investment analyst with InvestorPlace.
“These big-name investors are spotting opportunities in the economic chaos to fix up mismanaged businesses and mint themselves a profit along the way,” said Lango in an email.
He noted that industries experiencing “dramatic change” can see a lot more activist investors agitating for adjustments — like when e-commerce began disrupting sectors across retail in the 2010s.
That could help explain why c-stores, many of whom remain in the early days of digital transformations, have been targeted by their investors. With both Parkland and Seven & i, parent company of 7-Eleven Inc., activist investors have pushed for the retailers to split their businesses to better focus on their convenience arms.
“Activist investors love to split up conglomerates because the sum of the parts in mismanaged businesses are often worth more than the whole,” said Lango.
That’s certainly the opinion of ValueAct, the investment company that owns about 4.4% of Seven & i’s stock. In a letter to the retailer in January, ValueAct estimated “over 10 years the 100% spinoff of 7-Eleven capital restructuring would result in shareholder value that is 80% higher than maintaining the current conglomerate structure.” It has also put forward four new board nominees to replace incumbers up for election on May 25, a move now backed by major proxy firms.
Lango noted that once an activist investor starts pushing for changes, it’s vital to engage with them.
“If [the companies do] not engage,” he said, “they run the risk of the activist winning over shareholders and driving major change at the firm.”
Seven & i has met with ValueAct, though it steadfastly opposes the largest changes it’s requesting. Engine Capital said as of April that it had not had a chance to meet with Parkland’s directors.
Here’s a look at how Parkland and Seven & i have navigated their ongoing investor challenges so far.