If one investor gets his way, the tradition of preferring general corporate know-how over specific sector expertise could take a blow. And in this case the turn of fashion may herald a major shakeup in the credit card business.
As the day of the Target annual shareholders meeting dawned, activist shareholder William Ackman, who is fighting to install a set of directors onto the company´s board, hashed out his position on CNBC´s morning show, Squawk Box. The thrust of Ackman´s argument was that directors of companies like Target need more specific expertise, and in making it Ackman dissed two current board members, Wells Fargo Chairman Richard Kovacevich and former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson.
Both Fannie and Wells "rely on taxpayer funding in order to survive, as a result of real estate investments that they in some cases didn´t intend to make," Ackman pointed out by way of criticizing the two executives´ tangential knowledge of the real estate sector.
Ackman said he was confident that whether his proposed executives won or not, "The new directors that join this board are going to people with more relevant expertise."
That expertise could play into the fate of the company´s card business. Target is struggling to keep its card operation profitable in the face of drastically changed market conditions and a new set of regulations. Ackman´s directors would push for the sale of the business to a major financial institution. One of his nominees, Richard Vague, said earlier this month that the time could be right to make some move on Target´s credit cards.
Ackman´s confidence this morning seemed to convey the message that whether or not he wins the proxy battle, a decision will eventually present itself on how to properly adjust Target´s business to the recession. But finding the right things to change will come only after an initial shift that´s looking trendier every day in the corporate world: The re-education of the boardroom.