GM said to plan buyback, settle with activist investor

David Welch
Bloomberg News

General Motors Co. plans to announce Monday that it will buy back shares and settle with activist investor Harry J. Wilson, who will give up his request for a board seat after reaching an agreement with the automaker, people familiar with the matter said.

Wilson had requested a board seat and asked the Detroit-based company to use some of its cash to buy back $8 billion in shares in February. He was working with four hedge funds who collectively own more than 2 percent of the stock. GM will buy back less than the $8 billion over one year that Wilson requested, one of the people said.

GM had many conversations with Wilson on Friday to reach a settlement, and the company will announce a buyback and outline other ways to create value for its investors, the people said. The people wouldn’t say how much stock GM plans to buy back. Tony Cervone, a spokesman for the carmaker, declined to comment.

Wilson said in an interview in February that GM’s board needs a shareholder advocate who’ll push the company to improve profit and return some of its $25 billion cash hoard to shareholders.

GM has already raised its dividend this year and, prior to Wilson’s arrival, had been considering plans to return more cash to investors later in the year. The company was waiting to see how big its legal costs would be in connection with a recall of 2.59 million cars with defective ignition switches that have been connected to 50 deaths.

GM could be forced to pay a large fine to the U.S. Department of Justice as a result of the recall.

Wilson, who was on President Barack Obama’s Auto Task Force and had a key role in restructuring GM during its 2009 bankruptcy, said he wanted to see GM return cash to investors and give them more operating benchmarks to show improvement in the business.

The former U.S. Treasury official pressured GM, citing shareholder frustration. The automaker’s stock has bounced around since its $33-a-share initial public offering in November 2011. The shares rose to $39 in January 2012 and hit a high of $41.53 in December 2013.

The stock closed at 36.84 in New York Friday. GM shares rose more than 4 percent on Feb. 10 when the company disclosed that Wilson was urging a share buyback and asked for a board seat.

Wilson’s GM holdings are worth about $1.1 million. Among its board members, only Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, with $4.59 million in GM stock, former executive Steve Girsky and independent director Neville Isdell have more. Girsky accumulated many of his 103,000 shares when he was a GM executive, while Isdell owns 31,902 shares, which are worth about $1.2 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

GM disclosed in February that Wilson nominated himself for the board and was backed by Appaloosa parties, Taconic parties, HG Vora parties and the Hayman parties, who together own 34.4 million shares, or 2.1 percent.