A proxy fight, proxy contest or proxy battle (sometimes even called a proxy war) is an unfriendly contest for the control over an organization. The event usually occurs when a corporation's stockholders develop opposition to some aspect of the corporate governance, often focusing on directorial and management positions. Corporate activists may attempt to persuade shareholders to use their proxy votes (i.e., votes by one individual or institution as the authorized representative of another) to install new management for any of a variety of reasons. Shareholders of a public corporation may appoint an agent to attend shareholder meetings and vote on their behalf. That agent is the shareholder's proxy.
In a proxy fight, incumbent directors and management have the odds stacked in their favor over those trying to force the corporate change. These incumbents use various corporate governance tactics to stay in power, including: staggering the boards (i.e., having different election years for different directors), controlling access to the corporation's money, and creating restrictive requirements in the bylaws. As a result, most proxy fights are unsuccessful; except those waged more recently by hedge funds, which are successful more than 60% of the time. However, previous studies have found that proxy fights are positively correlated with an increase in shareholder wealth.: 8
Due to their out-sized influence with many institutional investors, proxy advisors play a key role in many proxy fights. In many cases, the proxy firms end up determining the result of the contest. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 also gave the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the power to regulate the solicitation of proxies.: 4 Some of the rules the SEC has since proposed, like the universal proxy, have been controversial because opponents have suggested that they would increase the amount of proxy fights.: 61