Apple (AAPL 1.89%) announced yesterday that it replaced retiring board member Bill Campbell with founding partner and director of BlackRock, Susan Wagner.
BlackRock is a well-known investment management corporation. Wagner looks like a very fitting addition to Apple's board, particularly due to her experience in finance at a time when Apple's enormous cash hoard requires extra attention. In fact, Wagner's presence on Apple's board could be good for the stock over the long haul.
That outspoken hedge-fund manager with a few good points
It wasn't long ago when hedge fund guru Carl Icahn was tweeting up a storm about what Apple's capital return program. Icahn argued in October 2013 in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook that the company simply wasn't being aggressive enough in its share repurchases, given how undervalued the shares seemed at the time.
Beyond his advice to repurchase more shares, Icahn gave made an interesting point, saying Apple should add an investor to its board of directors:
It is our belief that a company's board has a responsibility to recognize opportunities to increase shareholder value, which includes allocating capital to execute large and well-timed buybacks. Apple's board of directors does not currently include an individual with a track record as an investment professional. In my opinion, any further delay in executing the buyback we hereby propose will reflect this lack of expertise on the board.
While Apple didn't add someone with investment expertise to the board at the time, it did aggressively repurchase shares in the next several months. In February this year, Apple revealed that it was on pace to repurchase at least $32 billion in shares in fiscal 2014 alone. This figure was just $18 billion short of the $50 billion buyback Icahn had proposed a month earlier.
In April, Apple got even more aggressive with its plan to repurchase shares. The company authorized a $30 billion increase to its share repurchase program, from $60 billion to $90 billion.
Avoiding another missed opportunity
Though Apple's aggressiveness in repurchasing shares and boosting its share repurchase program are marks of good stewardship, there is certainly room for improvement in Apple's financial endeavors. Apple's valuation one year ago was mind-boggling cheap, and marked a clear rare investment opportunity that Apple could have taken better advantage of. It's unfortunate Apple didn't capitalize on the opportunity more meaningfully.
Of course, in hindsight, it's easier to see the potential of the opportunity. But there were undoubtedly a number of outspoken analysts voicing the ridiculousness of the company's valuation at the time. The stock's 50% gain since then shows investors just how undervalued the stock really was.
This is why investors should be ecstatic to see someone with experience in the financial industry join Apple's board. While Apple did manage to repurchase some shares when Apple was trading below a presplit $500 and a postsplit $71.50, if Wagner was on Apple's board at the time, the repurchase amount could have been larger. This would have added billions of dollars of intrinsic value to Apple shares.
Perhaps Apple's board heard Icahn well when he pointed out Apple's lack of financial expertise on its board of directors. The company called Wagner "a pioneer in the financial industry" in the press release announcing her new position. Further, given Apple's still enormous $150.6 billion cash hoard, perhaps Wagner already has an opinion on the pile of money that could add value.