Exxon shares jump as activist investor Jeff Ubben joins the board of directors

Exxon shares jump as activist investor Jeff Ubben joins the board of directors

Exxon Mobil announced two board seat changes on Monday, including activist investor and ESG proponent Jeff Ubben, in a sign that the company is confronting its uncertain future as the world moves toward cleaner energy and as investors shy away from oil stocks.

The company said Monday that in addition to Ubben joining its board, Mike Angelakis, the chairman and chief executive officer of Atairos and former CFO of Comcast, is also a new director.

Exxon shares jumped 4% after CNBC’s David Faber first reported the shake-up.

The moves come as Exxon has faced pressure from shareholders to reshuffle its board amid the company’s languishing stock price. Exxon’s investor day is Wednesday.

“We welcome these new directors as part of our ongoing board refreshment, which builds on the diverse global business experience of our current members,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Their contributions will be valued as ExxonMobil advances plans to increase shareholder value by responsibly providing needed energy while playing a leadership role in the energy transition,” he added.

The board changes come after Exxon announced a new director in February, saying it expected “to take further action in the near term.”

D.E. Shaw, which has been pushing Exxon for changes, is expected to support the latest board changes, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Ubben founded Inclusive Capital Partners in 2020, after stepping away from ValueAct, the firm he founded in 2000. In his last few years at the firm he oversaw ValueAct’s Spring Fund, which was focused on sustainable investing.

Ubben is expected to become a significant Exxon shareholder over time, according to the sources. Ubben’s no stranger to investing in oil and gas companies. While at ValueAct he took a stake in BP, saying traditional energy companies can belong in ESG portfolios.

Exxon has come under fire for failing to invest in the future of energy. Earlier this year the company announced plans to invest $3 billion in carbon capture and other emissions-cutting technology. 

In December then newly formed activist investor group Engine No. 1 announced plans to seek four Exxon board seats. The group, which includes founders from activist hedge funds including Partner Fund Management and JANA Partners, won the support of California pension giant CALSTRS.

Following Exxon’s February announcement that Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, former Petronas CEO, would join the board, Engine No. 1 said the changes didn’t go far enough. The group reiterated this sentiment following Monday’s announcement.

“While ExxonMobil has now conceded the need for board change, what is missing are directors with diverse track records of success in the energy industry who can position the Company for success in a changing world,” Engine No. 1 said in a statement. “We remain confident our nominees bring the right experience and skills to help put ExxonMobil on a path to sustainable, long-term value creation for the benefit of all shareholders.”

Shares of Exxon are up 32% this year.

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