Box has been in an ongoing dispute with activist investors Starboard Value over control of the board, an argument that is expected to come to a head on September 9th at the annual shareholder meeting. In an effort to show shareholders that the numbers are continuing to improve under the current leadership, Box took the unusual move of releasing its earning report this morning, two weeks ahead of the expected August 25th report date.
Companies don’t normally report ahead of schedule, but perhaps Box sees the opportunity to do some lobbying, or conversely, to counter any negative lobbying that Starboard may be doing with its fellow investors ahead of the vote.
It’s also worth noting that in spite of the meeting being on September 9th, like a lot of voting these days, people will be sending in votes throughout this month, ahead of that day. Box wants to get its latest financial information out there sooner rather than later to catch those early voters before they cast their ballots.
Fortunately for Box and CEO Aaron Levie, the numbers look decent.
It’s not hard to see why Box released its earnings early, as the numbers provide an argument for keeping the company’s current leadership in place.
In the three-month period ending July 31, 2021 — the second quarter of Box’s fiscal 2022 — the company generated $214 million in revenue, up 11% on a year-over-year basis. And, as Box is quick to point out, its second consecutive quarter of “accelerating revenue growth.” The company bested its own guidance of $211 to $212 million in revenue for the period.
It matters that Box is showing an ability to accelerate its revenue growth. First, because doing so puts wind in the sales of its stock; quickly growing companies are worth more per dollar of revenue than more slowly growing concerns, and accelerating revenue growth over time is investor catnip.
The accelerating pace of growth over the last half year also provides footing for Box’s leadership to argue that their product choices have been sound, directly supporting their positions that they should remain in charge of the company. If they made good product decisions quarters ago, and those choices are leading to accelerating revenue growth, why swap out the CEO?
Box had more quarterly good news apart from its revenue numbers to disclose. It also reported improved GAAP and non-GAAP operating margins — a key measure of profitability — better billings results than it had previously anticipated for the period. Box’s net retention rate also expanded to 106% from 103% in the sequentially preceding period.
And the company boosted its guidance for its fiscal year from “$845 million to $853 million” to “$856 million to $860 million.”
The counter arguments are somewhat easy to generate, however. Yes, Box’s revenue growth is accelerating, but from an admittedly reduced base; it’s not as hard to accelerate revenue expansion from low numbers as it is from higher base levels. And the company’s net retention is lower than what any business-focused SaaS company would want to report.
Will the good news be enough? Shares of Box are up around 1.5% in today’s regular trading, despite a somewhat mixed overall market. Investors now have to vote with more than just their dollars.
Starboard bought approximately 7.5% of the company in 2019, and actually stayed fairly quiet for the first year, but at the end of 2020 it started making itself heard with rumors of pressure to sell the company. In what appeared to be a defensive move, Box took a $500 million investment from private equity firm KKR and gave the investor a board seat in April.
The activist investor did not take kindly to that move, writing in a letter to investors in early May, “The only viable explanation for this financing is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to “buy the vote” and shows complete disregard for proper corporate governance and fiscal discipline.” In that same letter, Starboard made it official that it wanted to take over several board seats, outlining a litany of complaints it had about the way the company was being run. It also made clear that it wanted co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie gone or the company sold.
Box pushed back that the letter and another on May 10th did not accurately reflect the progress that the company had made. In July, Box took the battle public in an SEC filing detailing the back and forth dance that had been going between Box and Starboard since it bought its stake in the company
So far, the cloud content management company has staved off all attempts to force its hand and sell the company or fire Levie, but this is all going to culminate with the shareholder’s vote. It’s truly a battle for the soul of the company.
If Starboard convinces shareholders to give it several seats on the Box board, it would probably be able to push out Levie, take control of the company and likely sell it to the highest bidder. The early financial report released today, while not exactly stellar, shows a pattern of increasingly good quarters, and that’s what Box is hoping voters will focus on when they fill out their ballots.