Some large shareholders are growing increasingly frustrated with Tysons Corner-based MicroStrategy after they say the company’s executives, primarily long-time chief executive Michael Saylor, have failed to adequately lift the value of its stock and articulate a long-term direction.
The conflict burst into public view last week when California-based Apex Capital penned a letter calling on MicroStrategy and its board to remove Saylor as chief executive, buy back $455 million in stock and reinstitute quarterly investor calls after a nine-year hiatus.
Apex isn’t alone in its criticism, though it is the only one so far to go public. Other investors interviewed for this story also complained about MicroStrategy’s languishing stock price and urged the company to buy back shares to help boost the value.
MicroStrategy spokesman Warren Getler wrote in a statement that the company’s board has previously approved a share buyback program and the company has used cash to purchase shares in the past. It may opt to do so again with the $350 million currently on its balance sheet.
“While some would prefer that the company use this money to buy back the company’s stock, the company believes that it is in the best position to determine the appropriate use of these funds to secure the long-standing position of the organization,” the statement said.
Apex expressed concerns last week that Saylor no longer remains focused on the company’s core business after 24 years at the helm. Instead, Apex cited Saylor’s recent appearances on Fox Business News in which he touted his book on mobile technology and a product the firm does not consider core to MicroStrategy’s offerings. Apex also cited photos on social media of Saylor at parties and on his yacht in Saint Lucia, Grenada and other exotic locales as signs that his commitment has lapsed.
“This is, frankly, a highly unusual situation where the company’s conduct is sufficiently egregious to have earned it pariah status,” Gil Simon, Apex Capital’s portfolio manager for technology and entertainment, said in an interview last week.
Apex Capital holds 467,100 shares of MicroStrategy stock, according to the letter. That represents 5.15 percent of MicroStategy’s outstanding Class A shares. Apex has been an investor in MicroStrategy for two years, Simon said.
MicroStrategy creates software and mobile applications that other companies use to crunch their data and make more informed business decisions. Recently, it has expanded into office security with the creation of identification software called Usher that gives approved employees access to buildings and computer networks.
Shareholders said they would like to see Saylor remain with the company as a chairman or technical adviser, but define the role such that he no longer has direct management over day-to-day operations.
“I listen to his speeches, I see how the company is run, I talk to people inside the company and I think he is off looking at things that are going to deliver results in five to 10 years and not focused on maximizing the business today,” said one large shareholder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the firm has a policy against discussing specific companies.
“We think the products and their business are well positioned and are actually best-of-breed kind of strong products, but how the company has managed its business and managed its balance sheet are frankly the issues,” the shareholder added.
Those issues include poor communication from the company, which decided nine years ago it would no longer conduct quarterly calls or appear at conferences with investors. That approach, investors said, has resulted in the firm’s stock lagging behind other software firms.
“While the practice of not offering financial guidance is something that some on Wall Street would prefer we modify, MicroStrategy, and presumably the other companies that have adopted this practice, believe that it can best and most accurately comment on the past and not predict future financial results,” the company said in a statement.
MicroStrategy’s stock price closed at $124.02 Friday, up 29 cents or 0.23 percent, compared to the day before. The price has dipped as low as $82.72 and climbed as high as $134 in the past year.
“I’m OK with keeping a low profile with respect to conference calls and appearing at conferences, but if doing so results in a grossly undervalued stock, you have to take advantage of it,” the shareholder said.
Apex’s Simon said he believes the stock could triple if the company changes its management and better communicates goals.
“We get paid to make money for our investors, and we like the company,” Simon said. “We like the product. They’re a leader in their field, the business model is sound and the opportunity for capital return is phenomenal.”