Pension fund executives who did a star turn in The Walt Disney Co.'s recent boardroom drama say their role for the moment in the battle unfolding at Morgan Stanley is more akin to that of gawkers at a car wreck.
The "laser-beam focus" brought to bear in the campaign to rein in long-time Disney chief Michael D. Eisner has not been applied to Morgan Stanley because the issues at hand involve strategy more than corporate governance, said a public pension fund executive with responsibility for corporate governance issues, who declined to be named.
Morgan Stanley's institutionally focused culture and Dean Witter's retail-focused culture should never have been melded, and it's tempting to jump in now when the company is "hemorrhaging talent … but I don't know how many people are in my camp, and I don't know what my objectives are," said the chairman of a $40 billion public pension fund, who declined to be named.
A spokesman for another public pension fund executive who has previously weighed in on corporate governance issues, who also declined to be named, said his boss "doesn't feel the need" to take sides at this point, as there has been no evidence of either improprieties or an imminent collapse of Morgan Stanley's share price.
Morgan Stanley's share price ended Thursday at $52.33, down from Wednesday's close of $53.13 but still within the $50 to $60 range the stock has maintained since late October.
Reports that the Washington-based Council of Institutional Investors had voted to seek a conference call with both Morgan Stanley's board, which has backed Chief Executive Philip Purcell, and the group of former Morgan Stanley veterans campaigning to replace the CEO, briefly suggested a new round of looming activism.
But CII officials said the matter wasn't put to a formal vote. In a telephone interview, Jack Ehnes, the CII's newly installed chairman, as well as the chief executive officer of the $127 billion California State Teachers' Retirement System, said CII's staff simply made informal inquiries as to whether there was interest in providing an efficient venue for members to understand what is going on at the company now. The focus is on fact-finding and dialogue, he said.