Spotify Has a New Activist Investor That Wants Cost Cuts
ValueAct's chief executive said Spotify is now "sorting out what was built to last and what was built for the bubble."
ValueAct Capital Management, a hedge fund with a history of being an activist investor, now holds a stake in Spotify. Mason Morfit, the San Francisco-based company’s chief executive officer and chief investment officer, revealed the firm’s ownership in Spotify shares at an event at Columbia University on Friday (Feb. 10), according to reports.
Spotify shares rose 3.6% to $125.16 on Friday following the news.
ValueAct, which did not reveal the timing of the investment, enters the picture as Spotify appears determined to improve its margins and reign in costs. Two weeks ago, Spotify announced a reorganization and layoff of 6% of its staff. Chief content officer Dawn Ostroff, who used lucrative licensing and original content deals to build Spotify’s podcast business, departed the company. The New York-based executive’s duties were absorbed by chief business officer Alex Norström out of Spotify’s Swedish headquarters. In the fourth quarter, Spotify showed a willingness to pare costs by laying off staff in its original podcasts and some of its live programming.
“During the boom, it applied these powers to new markets like podcasts, audiobooks and live chat rooms,” ValueAct’s Morfit said according to The Financial Times. “Its operating expenses and funding for content exploded. It is now sorting out what was built to last and what was built for the bubble.”
ValueAct owns shares in dozens of companies including Twenty-First Century Fox, Nintendo, The New York Times Company, Microsoft and Adobe Systems.
Exactly what this means for Spotify’s decision-making isn’t immediately clear. Like Meta, Alphabet and some other prominent tech companies, Spotify has a dual-class share system that grants its founders with enough voting power to control corporate governance. In a single-class structure, shareholders’ voting power is proportional to the number of shares they own. In a dual-class system, ordinary shares have far less voting power than a second type of shares.
Spotify’s co-founders own only 38% of outstanding common shares but own 100% of the company’s “beneficiary certificates,” each of which has 10 times the voting power of an ordinary share but no economic rights. The arrangement gives CEO Daniel Ek and co-founder Martin Lorentzon 74.3% of voting power, according to Spotify’s 2022 annual report, and ensures the duo can choose the board of directors despite owning a minority of the company’s economic interest.
As of Dec. 31, 2022, Ek has 16.5% of outstanding common shares and 31.7% of total voting power while Lorentzon owns 11.1% of ordinary shares and 42.6% of total voting power. The next-largest shareholder, Baille Gifford & Co, owns 14.5% of ordinary shares and 5.1% of voting power. Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings owns 8.6% of ordinary shares, but Ek exercises those shares’ voting rights.