retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The St. Petersburg Times reports that when Publix Super Markets hosts its annual shareholders meeting on April 12 - an event that usually is “a happy corporate pep rally” - management will face a write-in campaign run by a group of dissident shareholders looking to elect an alternative slate of directors and explore the possibility of taking the company public.

As the Times writes, “The chances of upsetting the balance of power at the nation's largest employee-owned company appear remote. Dissident shareholder campaigns seldom succeed at more than putting pressure on management to change policies. And last year, holders of 5.5 billion Publix shares voted to retain the current nine-member board, while owners of just 14 million voted to oust them.

“None of the write-in candidates appeared to be employees, according to Publix officials, and a reporter's e-mails to the group - Publix Employee Shareholders United - drew no response. While the campaign's presence has been confined to a news release and a page on Facebook, that alone was enough to generate lots of buzz Wednesday on stock and retail industry blogs.

“After all, Publix is the nation's fourth-largest supermarket chain, and investment bankers for years have lusted over the possibility of underwriting a public offering.”

The story goes on: “Founder George Jenkins gave 85 percent of the company's shares to its employee stock ownership plan. His heirs and other insiders control the rest. The shares are currently traded privately and can be cashed in, usually when leaving the company, only by selling them back to Publix ... The dissidents want to enhance the value of Publix stock and make it easier to cash in shares. Standard ways to do that are to take the company public or sell a chunk of the company to private investor groups.”
KC's View:
It may be unlikely, but it seems to me that there are a lot of unlikely things happening these days.

But if this does happen, it would be a shame, because Publix management would be put in a position where it has to run the company with an eye on how Wall Street perceives it, as opposed to how Main Street responds to it.