March 23, 2017 / 7:08 PM / 6 months ago

CORRECTED-MOVES-Lazard taps Dimensional Fund exec for activist defense team -sources

(Corrects headline to Dimensional Fund, not Dimension)

By Michael Flaherty

NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - Lazard Ltd has tapped a portfolio manager at investment firm Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) to bolster its expanding activist shareholder defense team, according to people familiar with the matter.

Lazard has hired DFA’s Sunil Suri, who played a key role in the firm’s committee that decided how it voted on proposals at portfolio companies’ annual meetings, the sources said on Thursday. Investment banking defense teams are hired by companies that are being targeted by activist hedge funds.

The sources asked not to be identified because the move has not been announced. DFA declined to comment. Lazard spokeswoman Judi Mackay did not return a message seeking comment.

DFA, based in Austin, Texas, managed $445 billion in assets as of last September, and has a large portfolio of index funds. The influence of proxy voting teams at passive managers such as DFA is growing as they put more pressure on corporate management teams and boards to demonstrate strong performance results.

Suri’s move to Lazard is the latest high-profile hire by the bank’s activist defense team, known formally as the corporate preparedness group.

In November, the group, led by managing director Jim Rossman, hired Mary Ann Deignan, who was previously the co-head of global equity capital markets at Bank of America.

Lazard also said at the time it had hired Andrew Whittaker, the founder of a merger arbitrage hedge fund who previously worked at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The building of Rossman’s team follows a five-year surge in activist shareholder campaigns amid a wave of investor agitation over poor stock returns and corporate strategies.

Activist investors launched 429 campaigns aimed at U.S. companies last year, according to Thomson Reuters data, a nearly fivefold increase from a decade earlier. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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