Sunday, July 10, 2005

How politically incorrect thought starts the long journey to political correctness

From Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette

Heard Off the Street: Activist shareholder taking on H.J. Heinz
Sunday, July 10, 2005

By Len Boselovic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Shareholder activists comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who lines his wallet by needling wayward management, to inveterate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis, a Holocaust survivor who told Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton he was "selling out this company to war criminals" when Germany's Daimler-Benz bought the carmaker in 1998.

Somewhere along that spectrum -- it's pure conjecture to say exactly where -- is Dr. Mark Klein of Oakland, Calif. After jousts with General Electric and Kellogg, Klein is girding to do battle with H.J. Heinz.

Klein describes himself as a psychiatrist in his mid-60s who's concerned by "the relentless destruction of stable family life in America." The root cause of the malaise, according to Klein, is rampant "feminist careerism."

"Obviously, my views are not politically correct. Nobody could be more politically incorrect than Dr. Mark Klein," he says with great pride. "I think in a few years I will be politically correct."

In a few years, he could also be running for president.

Klein says he's considering entering the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 because "the collapse of the American family is such a catastrophe that we in this country need new leadership, and I'm prepared to do that."

"I'm probably the darkest of all the dark horses you could imagine," he says.

In the meantime, Klein will be on the ballot when Heinz shareholders convene Aug. 23 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown. Klein, who owns 1,642 Heinz shares, is sponsoring a resolution calling for the ketchup king to hire an investment banker to explore the sale of the company.

On the face of it, there is some basis for his proposal. By Klein's math, Heinz shares have fallen 27 percent since 1999. That slide does not reflect adjustments for the $2.5 billion spinoff of its private label soup and other businesses acquired by Del Monte in 2002.

Heinz shares handily outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 Index over the five-year period ended June 30. But their total return of 7.4 percent was one-fourth of the return provided by its peers, the S&P 500 Consumer Staples Index, which generated a cumulative return of 34 percent. Over the last 10 years, Heinz's 84.7 percent return lags both the S&P 500 (157.8 percent) and the S&P 500 Consumer Staples (143.3 percent).

Klein's basic argument is that Heinz is a company going nowhere. Like other food companies, it's in a bind over what he says is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, diseases more Americans are inflicted with because their moms aren't home to prepare and serve home-cooked meals.

He says that as parents, investors can't afford to own Heinz because the cost of a home and college education is going up faster than the price of Heinz shares. Epidemiological consequences aside, Klein believes Heinz should sell itself, preferably to private equity investors who could generate better returns on the company's well-known brands.

You'll find the vague outlines of his argument in materials recently served to Heinz shareholders. But the meat and potatoes, as it were, of Klein's proxy statement addresses what he calls "the profoundly negative social and economic train wreck wrought by feminist careerism."

"With both parents working full time, too few adults and children eat nutritious, portion-controlled, home-cooked meals," he warns shareholders. "To reverse the epidemic, more mothers need to be at home to prepare nutritious balanced meals and supervise the childrens' snacking."

Klein's argument at Heinz is more elaborate than the bare-bones case he presented when he unsuccessfully sponsored a similar resolution at Kellogg's shareholders meeting in April. That effort was accompanied by a demonstration by fathers' rights activists, a sideshow he'd like to orchestrate when Heinz shareholders meet. Klein says battling Kellogg's made him realize the proxy statement can be a bully pulpit for arguing social as well as shareholder issues.

"The social message of the feminist catastrophe and what it has done to America is the second pillar why I'm doing this," he says. "This is my opportunity to reach a very significant audience with ideas they generally don't hear."

Klein is not the first shareholder activist to come to the realization that shareholder meetings don't have to be the well-oiled, Power-pointed management specials they usually are. They can be, but typically aren't, forums for intelligent debate on serious issues. More often, they are the corporate version of theater of the absurd.

Nor is Klein the only shareholder seeking the spotlight at Heinz.

William Steiner, of Piermont, N.Y., is sponsoring a resolution recommending that a simple majority vote of shareholders be enough to decide most issues at Heinz. Over the years, Steiner has sponsored resolutions calling for limits on corporate compensation and other reforms at Home Depot, Merck, Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Motorola and AT&T.

"He's probably a general nuisance like me," Klein says.

Heinz directors' recommend voting against both resolutions. Here's hoping their mothers cook them a good meal and get them in bed at a decent hour the night before the meeting.



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(Len Boselovic can be reached at lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.)

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