I wrote the following article for partners of Braewick Holdings LP and readers of this blog. The article is on the story of Steak n Shake, Sardar Biglari, and what it takes for a restaurant to succeed. I’ve included the introduction here, but the entire article is in PDF format through the link below:
In March, 2008, Sardar Biglari won the most important victory of his life. In an activist campaign to gain control of the board of directors of The Steak n Shake Company, Biglari and his partner received nearly triple the number of votes of the directors they were replacing.
It hadn’t been easy—their proxy fight with incumbent management had been going on for more than six months. Biglari and the entities he controlled first purchased seven percent of Steak n Shake during the summer of 2007. In August, the initial filing was made with the S.E.C. stating that Biglari had been in discussions with management. At this point, as with many activist investors, Biglari hoped that management would be open to his suggestions and criticisms of the company. He was the third largest owner of Steak n Shake at the time, holding more shares than all executive officers and directors combined. Only days earlier, C.E.O. Peter Dunn had unexpectedly resigned, stating his intent to “pursue other interests.” It seemed like the perfect time to reform the faltering restaurant chain.
Yet, after Biglari’s initial meeting with the Board and interim C.E.O., he was denied representation and otherwise rebuffed from any involvement with the company. To management, he was as a nuisance—one that if ignored, would go away. But Biglari was not the kind of investor to be ignored. While continuing to accumulate shares, he launched the first blow in the proxy fight on October 1. Along with an official solicitation to shareholders, Biglari wrote a brief letter outlining his intentions and frustration with the performance of Steak n Shake.
During the proxy fight, Biglari’s demands were relatively mild. His initial goal was to obtain two Board seats—one for himself, and one for Philip Cooley (Biglari’s mentor and business partner). But as the Board continued to fight, and Steak n Shake’s performance continued to decline, he determined that simple representation wasn’t enough. The current Chairman and interim C.E.O., along with the Lead Director, had to go. Biglari launched a website titled “Enhance Steak n Shake” and went as far as buying billboard space in the company’s hometown of Indianapolis.
After months of back-and-forth between Biglari and incumbent management, the minority share owners of Steak n Shake made the overwhelming choice to replace current leadership with Sardar Biglari and Phil Cooley. During the contest, some claimed that Biglari was nothing but a corporate raider, only interested in Steak n Shake to pursue short-term profits at the expense of the company. Now, he would have the chance to prove them wrong.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time Biglari had successfully launched a hostile Board takeover of a public company. Despite his relatively young age of thirty-years, this wasn’t even the first restaurant he had pursued.