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It’s Getting Harder to Keep the Barbarians at the Gate—and It’s This Guy’s Job

To defend CEOs against activist investors, Jim Rossman studies every shareholder in any of 1,000 companies, constantly looking for an edge.

On the 61st floor of the iconic 30 Rock building in Midtown Manhattan, Jim Rossman’s team is embarking on a big data project this year. Its mission: analyzing shareholder ownership in a way that could help chief executive officers hang on to their jobs.

Rossman, who heads the corporate preparedness group at Lazard, has expanded his team globally to more than a dozen activist-defense bankers over the past three years. Among their tasks is a comprehensive study of every investor reporting holdings in any of 1,000 companies, including all of the S&P 500 constituents. The bankers are calculating how much of each stock is owned by an exchange-traded fund, a mutual fund, a hedge fund, or other asset manager. That way, Rossman says, he can start to predict how influential an activist investor may be.