Shareholder activism has made massive inroads into Japan over the last four years. In 2018, the number of activist campaigns in Asia surpassed the number across Europe for the first time, with Japan accounting for the majority of cases in Asia.
As part of our Tokyo office’s 15th Anniversary celebrations, during the Forum held on October 31st, our Tokyo office hosted a panel discussion on the trends and outlook of shareholder activism in Japan. Distinguished panellists included Kenton J. King, Partner, M&A, Corporate Governance of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates, and Ryushiro Kodaira, Senior Staff Writer, Editorial Headquarters for Asia, Nikkei Inc. Kekst CNC Tokyo Partner Jochen Legewie moderated the panel and led the lively discussion in front of the 100-strong audience from leading Japanese and multinational corporations, media, investment banks and law firms.
Both panellists agreed that activists in Japan are increasingly taking a more sophisticated approach, with many of them preferring to interact with management in the background, while others continue to rely on public campaigns and the use of the media. Overall activism is expected to further increase in Japan.
Another challenge is the changing role of traditional asset management firms. While they have been silent, and thus stable shareholders in the past, they are increasingly endorsing activist campaigns and thus behaving similarly to activists themselves. It is therefore becoming vital for Japanese companies to proactively communicate with those shareholders – and do this permanently.
In other words, Japanese firms should not only prepare for activist attacks or deal with activists when targeted. They need to take a more strategic communications approach with all shareholders to increase their understanding and support for the overall company strategy.