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Starboard presses for changes at Autodesk after accounting probe, suggests cuts

By Thomson Reuters Jun 25, 2024 | 9:57 AM

(Reuters) – Activist investor Starboard Value is seeking operational and governance changes at Autodesk after losing a bid to appoint its nominees to the design software firm’s board ahead of its annual meeting next month.

In a letter to the Autodesk board on Tuesday, Starboard said the company was maintaining a misleading “all is well” narrative and had eroded investor trust with a “wholly inadequate response” to the issue.

The letter comes in the wake of a months-long probe into accounting and financial issues at a San Francisco, California-based company, which delayed filing its annual report, hitting its share price.

Autodesk disclosed in May that, to meet free cash flow targets, it continued entering into multi-year, upfront contracts with enterprise customers through 2023 despite previously announcing a transition to annual billings a year earlier.

The company did not reinstate its financial statements but appointed board member Elizabeth Rafael as interim finance chief, replacing Debbie Clifford, who was moved to the role of strategy head.

The activist investor said in the letter that the management at Autodesk, which provides 3D design and engineering solutions for several sectors, including construction, manufacturing and media, “intentionally” misled investors.

Autodesk did not respond to a request for comment.

Starboard also accused Autodesk of “subpar operational and financial performance” while identifying significant cost reduction opportunities, particularly within the company’s sales and marketing organization.

Autodesk’s sales grew at a six-year low of about 10% last fiscal year, and its shares are down 30% since their peak in August 2021.

Starboard, which revealed an over $500 million stake in Autodesk earlier this month, has also managed activist campaigns at Salesforce, Wix.com and GoDaddy.

The New York-based investment adviser had unsuccessfully sued Autodesk to delay its annual general meeting, set for July 16, and reopen its director nomination window, which closed in March.

(Reporting by Yuvraj Malik in Bengaluru; Editing by Tasim Zahid)