How Companies Fight Off a Takeover Bid


What Is a Poison Tablet?

“Poison capsule” is a colloquial time period for a protection technique utilized by the administrators of a public firm to stop activist buyers, opponents, or different would-be acquirers from taking management of the corporate by shopping for up massive quantities of its inventory.

Poison capsules successfully block the buildup of stakes above a set share of an organization’s excellent shares by promising to distribute extra free or closely discounted shares to all shareholders besides those that set off the availability.

The purpose is to stop outsiders from gaining management with out negotiating with the corporate’s board or paying a negotiated buyout worth to all shareholders. Courts have upheld poison capsules as a professional protection by company boards, which aren’t obligated to just accept any supply they don’t deem to be within the firm’s long-term curiosity.

Key Takeaways

  • A poison capsule is a protection tactic listed corporations use to discourage activist buyers or acquirers from constructing massive stakes or staging a takeover with out the board’s consent, and with out paying a premium to all shareholders.
  • Poison capsules specify the utmost stake a shareholder could amass, and dilute the holdings of those that exceed the restrict by issuing closely discounted or free extra shares to the opposite shareholders.
  • As a result of poison capsules can entrench firm managers and boards, corporations should be capable of present they’re a proportional response to a reputable menace. 
  • Buyers unable to persuade an organization to drop its poison capsule retain the choice of persuading shareholders to switch the board.

Understanding Poison Tablets

Takeovers transferring management of a publicly traded firm to a different firm or a non-public fairness agency are frequent within the company enviornment. Most of them happen on phrases accepted by the goal firm’s board of administrators. U.S. courts have dominated firm boards have broad discretion in deciding whether or not or to not pursue a selected deal.

One cause profitable hostile takeovers are much less frequent is that firm boards have highly effective instruments just like the poison capsule to make sure their needs are revered.

For instance, a poison capsule may specify that if any single entity or individual acquires an organization stake of 15% or extra, all different shareholders will be capable of purchase extra shares for half their market worth, or alternatively the corporate might merely distribute an additional share for each already owned, whereas not doing so for the occasion that triggered the availability. These had been the phrases of the poison capsule Twitter Inc. (TWTR) adopted in April 2022, shortly earlier than agreeing to a buyout by Elon Musk.

The poison capsule’s sensible impact is to make breaching the possession stake restrict self-defeating, as a result of doing so would end result within the dilution of the stake in breach.

The poison capsule tactic has been round for the reason that Eighties, when it was devised by New York legislation agency Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz amid a wave of hostile takeover and greenmail makes an attempt by company raiders, since rebranded as activist buyers.

The poison capsule frustrates “creeping acquisitions of management,” during which the acquirer seeks to build up a controlling or dominant stake piecemeal, with out negotiating with the board or providing the identical deal to each shareholder. Courts have dominated poison capsules are a professional protection towards such makes an attempt to avoid an organization board’s prerogatives.

As in Twitter’s case, a poison capsule would not all the time point out that the corporate will not be keen to be acquired. Relatively, it could be enacted to acquire a better valuation or in any other case enhance the phrases of the acquisition.

Benefits of a Poison Tablet

An organization’s board has a fiduciary responsibility to guard the pursuits of all shareholders, whereas an outsider looking for management could solely want or have to fulfill a minority to achieve efficient management via a young supply, for instance. A poison capsule helps forestall takeovers primarily based on majority management from disregarding the pursuits of minority shareholders.

It additionally discourages vulture bids looking for to benefit from a short lived decline in a share worth. Market declines on the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic led tons of of U.S. corporations to undertake shareholder rights plans for that cause.

Firms with poison capsule defenses have tended to garner larger takeover premiums than these with out them. Industrial gasses provider Airgas, which deployed a poison capsule to withstand a hostile takeover by rival Air Merchandise and Chemical compounds Inc. (APD) in a landmark authorized battle, bought 4 years later to Air Liquide for greater than twice as a lot as Air Merchandise supplied.

Drawbacks of Poison Tablets

By discouraging a motivated purchaser from shopping for extra firm inventory, a poison capsule is prone to go away a share worth decrease than it will be in any other case, at the very least within the quick run.

Poison capsules may defend underperforming firm managers from shareholder efforts to switch them. The excellent news on that rating is that changing an organization board in a proxy contest could make a poison capsule go away, if the brand new board so chooses.

As a result of poison capsules discriminate towards activist patrons and restrain buying and selling in an organization’s inventory, they sometimes require justification, and sometimes have sundown provisions.

Proxy advisory corporations Glass Lewis and Worldwide Shareholder Companies (ISS) have historically opposed poison capsules due to their potential to entrench managers unresponsive to shareholders. As of 2022, ISS pointers known as for poison capsules to have a time period of not more than three years and a set off no decrease than 20% of shares excellent. Glass Lewis typically opposes poison capsules, with case-by-case exceptions for these restricted in scope and motivated by a selected menace or goal.

From the angle of firm administration involved a few specific shareholder, one unavoidable downside of a poison capsule is that it can’t dilute a stake acquired by an activist investor or potential acquirer earlier than the poison capsule was adopted.

Poison Tablet Flavors: Flip-In, Flip-Over, and Useless-Hand

Most poison capsules are triggered by the buildup of an organization stake above a preset threshold. These are often known as the flip-in shareholder rights plans, in distinction to the seldom used flip-over ones. A flip-over poison capsule is triggered provided that an organization is acquired by one other public firm, and lets shareholders of the acquired firm purchase shares of the acquirer at a reduction.

A dead-hand or slow-hand poison capsule limits a future board’s capability to take away that provision by specifying that the poison capsule can solely be canceled by a board majority consisting of present administrators or the successors they select. Delaware, the company domicile state of two-thirds of Fortune 500 corporations and most up-to-date preliminary public choices, bars dead-hand poison capsules, whereas Georgia and Pennsylvania courts have upheld them.

Poison capsules usually embody “wolf pack” clauses relevant to the mixture holdings of shareholders appearing in live performance with out expressly agreeing to take action, reminiscent of hedge fund managers accumulating separate stakes in pursuit of a typical activist agenda, for instance.

Poison Tablet Examples

Papa John’s

In July 2018, the board of restaurant chain Papa John’s (PZZA) voted to undertake a poison capsule to stop ousted founder John Schnatter from gaining management of the corporate. Schnatter, who owned 30% of the corporate’s inventory, was the biggest shareholder of Papa John’s.

To discourage a takeover try by Schnatter, the board adopted a poison capsule expiring after a 12 months that may allow the corporate to promote its inventory to shareholders for half its market worth if Schnatter and his associates elevated their stake to 31%, or if anybody else amassed a 15% stake. As with all poison capsules, these triggering the availability wouldn’t be allowed to purchase inventory on the identical discounted phrases, successfully diluting their stake.

“Adoption of the Rights Plan is meant to allow all Papa John’s stockholders to understand the complete potential worth of their funding within the firm and to guard the pursuits of the corporate and its stockholders by decreasing the probability that any individual or group good points management of Papa John’s via open market accumulation or different techniques with out paying an acceptable management premium,” the corporate stated in saying the poison capsule’s adoption.

Schnatter filed go well with over a number of the poison capsule’s provisions, settling it the next 12 months together with different litigation towards the corporate. He diminished his stake in Papa John’s to lower than 4% by 2020.


In 2012, Netflix (NFLX) introduced a poison capsule days after billionaire investor Carl Icahn and associates disclosed a stake of almost 10%. The poison capsule promised to dilute the stake of anybody buying greater than 10% of the video streaming service supplier, by permitting different shareholders to buy two shares for the value of 1.

In disclosing their stake, Icahn associates recommended “Netflix could maintain important strategic worth for a wide range of considerably bigger corporations,” including they had been “contemplating methods for [Netflix] to maximise shareholder worth.”

The Icahn funds criticized the corporate’s adoption of a poison capsule in an up to date securities submitting. “Any poison capsule with out a shareholder vote is an instance of poor company governance, and…the capsule Netflix simply adopted is especially troubling attributable to its remarkably low and discriminatory 10% threshold,” they stated.

Icahn funds later diminished and finally bought their Netflix stake for a hefty acquire.

Why Are Poison Tablets Used?

Poison capsules forestall an activist investor or a possible acquirer from gaining management of a publicly traded firm with out the consent of the corporate’s board. Offers involving the board’s consent to a change of management sometimes present a major premium over the market worth for all shareholders, in distinction to the share purchases in market transactions the poison capsules search to discourage.

What Are the Disadvantages of Poison Tablets?

Poison capsules might help self-serving incumbent managers and boards frustrate shareholder efforts to oust them with the intention to enhance the corporate’s efficiency. Because of this, company governance advisers suggest corporations restrict them in scope and period, make sure that such plans deal with a particular purpose or menace, and have a excessive triggering threshold.

What is the Authorized Precedent for Poison Tablets?

In Delaware, the place many massive, listed corporations are included, the courts have held company boards have vast discretion in stopping the buildup of controlling stakes, supplied their response is proportional and primarily based on an affordable notion of a menace.