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Profile of Jana Partners Activist Investor Barry Rosenstein

October 22, 2012 | About:

When James Foster, the chief executive of Charles River Laboratories International Inc., CRL -0.41% got a call from investor Barry Rosenstein telling him an acquisition he was planning would fail, Mr. Foster says he thought: "Who is this guy?"

He soon learned he was facing many CEOs' worst nightmare: an activist investor in his company's stock.

But instead of getting dragged into a bruising fight, Mr. Foster found himself talking to a soft-spoken yoga devotee who gave as his calling card his ability to establish "collaborative relationships" with executives even while pushing for changes.

Mr. Rosenstein's hedge fund, Jana Partners LLC, which has $3.5 billion under management, had taken a position in Charles River and voted to reject a $1.6 billion acquisition of WuXi PharmaTech WX +3.68% . But the 2010 call proved the first of several discussions between the men about how to improve the drug research company and boost its stock. The company soon decided to abandon the deal and announced a stock buyback. Its share price improved, and Jana made a return of around 17% upon selling the stock a little more than a year later.

"Some activists can be brutal and superficial," Mr. Foster said in an interview. "Barry was very driven and directed, but in a low-key, collaborative, thoughtful and well-reasoned way. There was never any grandstanding."

Mr. Rosenstein, 53 years old, is considered one of the most successful activist investors in recent years, having pushed for the breakups of companies such as McGraw-Hill Cos.MHP -0.75% and Marathon Petroleum Corp. MPC -0.76% And while he will resort to tough tactics, his victories have come largely by eschewing the aggressive public stances associated with fellow activists such as Carl Icahn and William Ackman.

"I try to be very respectful," said Mr. Rosenstein while sitting in a conference room in Jana's headquarters overlooking New York's Central Park, a space he says he helped design in muted whites and beiges to evoke calm. "I get a lot more out of these CEOs by not embarrassing them publicly, by not being viewed as trying to nail their scalp to the wall."

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