Giuseppe Bivona is not afraid of ruffling feathers. Co-founder of London-based hedge fund Bluebell Partners, he looks after just £60m of investments. But proving size isn't everything, the minnow activist has built a reputation for taking down big names.
Bluebell was instrumental in toppling Danone chief Emmanuel Faber in March. Since its launch two years ago, it has led a campaign against asset manager GAM, has attacked Cineworld and taken aim at the incoming chairman of Italian lender Unicredit. Last week it moved investment giant Vivendi into the crosshairs, urging the board to pay shareholders billions of euros when the European investment giant spins off Universal Music Group .
But the campaign against Leonardo, one of the world's biggest defence contractors, is personal.
The Milan-listed firm is one of the UK's most important suppliers . After merging with aerospace company Westland in 2016, it employs 7,000 people in the UK. The wider group is also working alongside BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce on a stealth fighter jet to replace the RAF's Typhoon . The first phase of the programme is due to cost £2bn by 2025.
Bivona's beef with Leonardo, and specifically its chief executive Alessandro Profumo, goes a long way back. It started when he opened his copy of Il Sole 24 Ore on Jan 26 2013. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world's oldest bank, had plunged into a crisis. Chief executive Fabrizio Viola told the Italian financial newspaper: "The situation is now under control and the proper functioning of the bank is not in question."
Bivona, who at the time had just left Goldman Sachs after more than 20 years in banking, says: "He said certain things, that for someone who is an expert in fixed income, did not make any sense at all. I realised that the guy was bulls—-ing big time."
Bivona sought out Profumo, Monte dei Paschi's chairman, with whom he had crossed over with while working at consultancy McKinsey. "I told him: 'Look, I think you have got a problem with your finances,' he says. "So he sued me for €30m (£26m), saying that I was bad-mouthing the company." That legal action is yet to be concluded.
Within two years, Italian securities officials had launched an inquiry. Profumo and others were charged.
Profumo was appointed chief executive of Leonardo in 2017. Last October an Italian court found Profumo guilty of market rigging and false accounting at Monte dei Paschi in the first half of 2015. Bivona, who had taken "a closer interest because I needed to defend myself" was the star witness for the prosecution.
Profumo was given a six-year jail sentence and handed a €2.5m fine and prohibited from managing a company for two years. Profumo maintains his innocence and is appealing.
Leonardo refused to sack him. A spokesman for the company says: "According to Italian law, the conditions do not exist for cessation of his role as CEO of Leonardo. In fact the judgement is not final and remains suspended until it is unable to be further challenged under Italian law."
Bivona sees it as an ethical issue, however. "Italy is a funny place. It is a funny country. But I genuinely believe that someone who has been convicted for false accounting should not be the CEO of a publicly-listed company."
Investor champions in Britain agree. "In the UK he would have stepped aside," says Cliff Weight from UK investor forum ShareSoc.
Whitehall civil servants are tracking the situation. The Ministry of Defence "continue[s] to monitor the situation closely", an official told Bivona in a letter in November.
Bivona has continued his campaign on a number of fronts. He tried, and failed, to bring "liability action" against Profumo at Leonardo's annual general meeting. He only owns 25 Leonardo shares but convinced influential proxy adviser Glass Lewis to support his motion.
In the US he may have had a hand in skewering Leonardo's $600m (£423m) float of its American military electronics arm.
Pulling the stock market debut on March 24, bosses cited "adverse" market conditions, with company insiders blaming Joe Biden's plans to cut spending on the armed forces.
Bivona disputes this account, insisting that market conditions significantly improved. He claims US investors were spooked by a revision to the float prospectus made on March 23 that, following a letter from him to the SEC, highlighted the potential reputational damage from the Profumo fraud ruling.
Bivona continues to lobby the Italian and UK authorities to intervene and remove Profumo, frustrating company insiders. They see him as a "lone wolf" figurehead with a vendetta against their chief executive.
Bivona is not phased. "To some extent, they are right," he says. "Because it was me that realised they were [committing] fraud. It was me that testified in court."
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