Chairman of Wall Street asset manager WisdomTree booted off board

A boardroom battle at WisdomTree ended last week with the dethronement of the asset management firm’s chairman, while the dissident investor who led the shakeup fell short in his own quest for a board seat.

Midtown-based WisdomTree specializes in creating exchange-traded funds and manages $90 billion in client assets. Its stock trades for less than $7 a share and has gone nowhere for many years. Last year London-based investor Graham Tuckwell began pushing the board to replace founder and Chief Executive Jonathan Steinberg, husband of Fox News personality Maria Bartiromo. 

When directors refused to budge, Tuckwell and two allies ran for seats on the nine-member board.

Tuckwell’s war yielded one victory and it was a significant one. His ally, Tonia Pankopf, won enough shareholder votes at WisdomTree’s annual meeting last week to unseat longtime Chairman Frank Salerno. Her election signaled a “clear mandate for change,” Tuckwell said.

But Tuckwell came up short in his own campaign for the board, according to a preliminary count of the shareholder vote. WisdomTree said its adversary was “decisively” rejected but didn’t provide a vote count. Another Tuckwell ally, financial executive Bruce Aust, also failed to receive enough votes for board election.

Keefe Bruyette & Woods analyst Michael Brown said the split decision “could be a disappointing outcome for a subset of investors that were hoping for a shake up, including a potential sale of the company.”

It appears the final battle hasn’t been fought. Brown said he expects Tuckwell to remain a thorn in WisdomTree’s side, applying “persistent pressure on management.”