IBJNews

Emmis finds loophole for board on Smulyan buyout

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Greg Andrews

Jeff Smulyan and his financial partner have paved the way to complete their $90 million Emmis Communications Corp. buyout by seizing on a little-used provision of state law that excuses the company’s board from having to vote on the proposal.

The letter of intent signed by partner Alden Global Capital conditions the deal on the board’s exercising its right under Indiana’s “special circumstances statute” to send the proposal directly to shareholders without a board recommendation.

Indiana law normally requires board approval for buyouts. But the language cited by New York-based Alden provides an exception for conflicts of interest or special circumstances. What qualifies isn’t spelled out in the law, and Emmis would not elaborate why the company believes its board’s circumstances fit.
 

Smulyan-Jeff-mug Smulyan

The maneuver could go a long way toward ensuring that the proposal Smulyan announced April 26 to take Emmis private doesn’t meet the same fate as a buyout proposal he unveiled four years ago. That deal bogged down at the board level over price. As talks dragged on, credit market soured, and Smulyan ended discussions.

Corporate governance experts have long said Smulyan’s status as the company’s controlling shareholder creates thorny conflict-of-interest issues. Though the 63-year-old owns less than 20 percent of the shares, most of his stock has special voting rights. The turbocharged shares push his voting rights to 70 percent.

The upshot: Smulyan, Emmis’ chairman and CEO, single-handedly has the power to elect or vote out nearly all the board members—clout that has spawned questions about whether “independent” directors truly are so.

That issue has especially dogged director Susan Bayh, a former charitable-giving consultant for Emmis who is married to Sen. Evan Bayh. Smulyan has raised money for him is an unabashed supporter.

Given those dynamics, board members four years ago were hypersensitive to appearing to be patsies for the CEO, some shareholders believe, and thus snubbed an offer they should have accepted.

Indeed, Smulyan’s 2006 offer of $15.25 per share—a bid that valued the entire company at $567 million—looks rich by today’s standards. The stock plunged as low as 24 cents last July and rallied to around $2.30 before Smulyan unveiled his new, $2.40-per-share buyout offer. Though part of the decline is the result of a $4-per-share special dividend Emmis issued in late 2006, most stems from a sharp downturn in radio advertising.

Regulatory filings show that when Smulyan was trying to seal a deal in 2006, he dangled as much as $16.80 a share. When nothing came of those discussions, an institutional shareholder fired off a letter scolding the special board committee negotiating with Smulyan for inaction.

“Why would the special committee of the board of directors of a struggling public company in a struggling industry spurn repeated efforts to take the company private at a substantial premium?” asked New York-based First Eagle Investment Management. “We believe the answer lies in an extreme overreaction to perceived conflicts of interest arising out of Mr. Smulyan’s personal and professional ties to board members.”

These days, the board faces at least as daunting a minefield. In 2006, six of eight directors qualified as independent under NASDAQ rules. Now, only four of eight do. Independent directors normally are supposed to hold a majority of board seats at NASDAQ companies, though Emmis is exempt from that rule because of Smulyan’s status as controlling shareholder.

Within hours of Smulyan’s April 26 announcement of his new offer, law firms began girding for battle. At least eight issued press releases saying they were looking into filing breach-of-fiduciary-duty suits. “The investigation concerns whether Emmis’ board of directors failed to adequately shop the company and obtain the best price possible,” Delaware-based Rigrodsky & Long said in its release.

But even if the board did shop the company, the exercise probably would have been pointless because Smulyan’s turbocharged shares on their own give him the votes to shoot down a competing offer.

He has the extra voting rights on nearly all matters except a going-private transaction. In that scenario, each of his shares has a single vote, putting him on equal footing with rank-and-file shareholders.

Yet even with the diminished voting power, Smulyan probably can garner enough support to close his deal—in part because other shareholders recognize this might be the best they can get.

It all adds up to some strange dynamics that, understandably, have put minority shareholders on edge and drawn out an army of attorneys.

“I think that with the controlling shareholder and absence of a board recommendation, it is something that shareholders need to look at with special scrutiny,” said Richard Shevitz, a Cohen & Malad attorney not involved with Emmis.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

ADVERTISEMENT