‘Woke Inc.’ Author Launches Proxy Voting Service to Shake Up Status Quo
By Lauren Foster
January 10, 2023
The 2023 proxy season is fast approaching and the battle lines are being drawn.
This year’s springtime ritual—where shareholders vote on resolutions affecting the companies they own—will see new rules go into effect. And a proxy advisor linked to Vivek Ramaswamy, the author of the bestselling book Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, is intent on disrupting the status quo.
Activist investor Strive Asset Management—a vigorous opponent of environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, investing—on Tuesday launched a proxy voting advisory and a consulting arm as an alternative to Institutional Shareholder Services (ticker: ISS) and Glass Lewis, the two dominant U.S. proxy advisory firms.
Strive’s proxy services are debuting amid a backlash against what critics believe is a blurring of the lines between politics and investing and as some U.S. lawmakers seek to curb asset managers’ power over proxy votes. U.S. firms are also under pressure to allow retail investors to vote in proxy battles.
Citing research from George Mason University, Strive says ISS and Glass Lewis control about 97% of the market share of the proxy advisory service industry. This “is a big reason why you see politicized policies being advanced in corporate America’s boardrooms—because of the conformity of following ISS and Glass Lewis recommendations generally, both of whom have been very closely tied to an environmental and social agenda that finds its way into many proxy votes,” Vivek Ramaswamy, co-founder and executive chairman of Strive, told Barron’s.
The firm says ISS and Glass Lewis “steer the behavior of thousands of smaller asset managers—and tens of billions of dollars—to advance ESG values often in lockstep with the Big Three asset managers BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard.”
“Our core focus is on shareholder engagement and proxy voting and representing the voices of capital owners,” says Ramaswamy. “We can’t just tackle the triopoly of the Big Three in asset management, but also have to tackle a duopoly in the proxy advisory market.”
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