For me the Duke Energy and Elliott Management issue that has surfaced is like, as Yogi Berra said, “Déjà vu all over again.”

For those of you who have not been reading the business news, activist investment firm Elliott Management is pushing Duke Energy for changes in its strategy and structure. Elliott Management has taken an equity stake in Duke Energy, which opens the door to an approach to Duke’s management. Elliott Management has been active in reorganization attempts with other utilities.

So I said it was Déjà vu for me. I worked at Phillips Petroleum in the 1980s when Boone Pickens and others made takeover attempts on the company. I worked in communications with members of management as part of my job, so I had a closer than normal view of the issues. (Certainly not as close as some, but much closer than average.)

Surreal time. Big league. National newscasters in town (a small town, by the way). Daily, and sometimes almost hourly updates from the market and courts.

The oil company activists seem at this point as more gloves off than these days. Oil was much a blunter and more bare-knuckle business than utilities – my impression when I moved from petroleum to an electric company.

The basic script on such efforts to influence a corporate board is usually that someone outside the boardroom feels there is value that is unnecessarily locked-up that can benefit shareholders. The corporate board often will explain the benefits of a current strategy. Both parties couch their points in fiduciary duties.

What of Duke Energy and Elliott Management? Here are the headlines – the actual headlines:

Duke Energy Urged by Hedge Fund Elliott to Split Into 3 Firms – Duke Energy is urged by activist hedge fund Elliott to form a board panel to explore the possibility of separating into three companies.

Activist fund’s reported stake in Duke Energy puzzles investors, worries politicians

An activist investor may urge Duke Energy to ‘get back to basics’

Here’s a look a little further under the hood:

This is a news release that Elliott Management issued. Elliott Investment Management Sends Letter to Board of Directors of Duke Energy Corporation.

Here’s the response from Duke Energy to the letter from Elliott Management.

Other stakeholders are weighing in. “A bipartisan statement from [NC Governor Roy] Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and others noted Duke’s presence in the Carolinas for more than a century and the thousands of people it employs.” True, and not in the equation about business strategy. There will be a lot of opinions in the press on all sides in this issue to sort.

The Duke Energy and Elliott Management discussions are early in the process. There is a lot happening behind the scenes, certainly.

This is a part of the North and South Carolina power industry by virtue of just being in the news, so I mention it here. So much more will play out in this drama and will involve companies, shareholders, customers and policymakers.

We’ll keep an eye.


Feature image is a Duke Energy wind turbine