Case | HBS Case Collection | April 2008 (Revised September 2008)

Shareholder Activists at Friendly Ice Cream (A)

by Fabrizio Ferri, V.G. Narayanan and James Weber


Two activist investors, one a founder and one a hedge-fund manager, seek to improve board oversight at a chain restaurant company. Prestley Blake founded Friendly Ice Cream in 1935 with his brother, and the two created a chain of full-service restaurants. In 1979 they sold the business and retired. In 2000, Blake became concerned that Friendly's CEO, who owned approximately 10% of Friendly and also owned a larger percentage of another restaurant company, was shifting expenses between the businesses in a way detrimental to Friendly shareholders, but personally advantageous to the CEO. Further, Blake believed that Friendly's board of directors was not meeting their fiduciary obligations to shareholders by properly overseeing the activities of the CEO, and that the directors had conflicts of interest, because they were involved with the CEO's non-Friendly business activities. In 2003, Blake filed a lawsuit against the CEO and the company. In 2006, Sardar Biglari, a hedge-fund manager who had invested in Friendly, entered into negotiations with Friendly for him to join the board of directors to help improve the management of the business. When these negotiations failed, Biglari launched a proxy fight against Friendly in 2007. While these two activist investors shared similar objectives, they worked independently and chose different strategies.

Keywords: Investment Activism; Governing and Advisory Boards; Lawsuits and Litigation; Business or Company Management; Business and Shareholder Relations; Conflict of Interests; Food and Beverage Industry; United States;


Ferri, Fabrizio, V.G. Narayanan, and James Weber. "Shareholder Activists at Friendly Ice Cream (A)." Harvard Business School Case 108-024, April 2008. (Revised September 2008.)