WisdomTree chief executive Jonathan Steinberg
WisdomTree says there is ‘no case for change’ and has urged shareholders to vote for all the directors on the board, including Jonathan Steinberg, pictured © Matthew Busch/Bloomberg

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WisdomTree’s largest shareholder has launched a new attempt to oust its chief executive, pressing for a potential sale of the $107bn asset manager and criticising its recent push into decentralised finance.

Graham Tuckwell, chair of ETFS Capital, which owns about 18 per cent of WisdomTree, is urging investors to cast proxy ballots against the reappointment of founder and CEO Jonathan “Jono” Steinberg and two other board members at the company’s upcoming annual meeting. WisdomTree, in response, insisted “there is no case for change” and has asked stockholders to “not let Mr Tuckwell derail our progress and hinder our success”.

The missives are the latest salvos in a dispute over the company’s future that has been rumbling since early 2022. Tuckwell has taken a strong interest in WisdomTree since 2018, when WisdomTree acquired the European arm of ETF Securities, a London-based ETF specialist founded by Tuckwell in 2005.

Tuckwell said in a statement issued on Monday that he believed WisdomTree was currently worth between $2.1bn and $3bn, well above its current market value of $1.4bn — and called on WisdomTree’s board to hire a top investment bank to help consider a sale of all or part of the business.

“The DeFi initiatives have been a massive distraction and utterly unsuccessful in our view,” Tuckwell said in the letter to shareholders, calling on the asset manager to “hire a reputable banker and evaluate all options to unlock value as soon as possible”.

The efforts that have drawn Tuckwell’s ire include the launch of the retail-focused WisdomTree Prime digital wallet service and the relatively weak debut of the manager’s spot bitcoin ETF in January. With about $69mn in assets, WisdomTree’s bitcoin ETF is the second-smallest of the 11 such ETFs on the US market. Tuckwell also has called on WisdomTree to share performance data related to WisdomTree Prime and the bitcoin ETF.

In a statement to shareholders filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission asking for support, also dated May 6, WisdomTree noted it had secured more than $29bn in net inflows since January 2021. The manager insisted it was “laser-focused” on its ETF business, which was the ninth-largest in the US as of April 30, according to Morningstar.

“We are enhancing WisdomTree Prime’s capabilities and have plans to enable peer-to-peer transfers and payments in the upcoming quarters,” WisdomTree’s letter said. “During the remainder of the year, we plan to incrementally increase marketing and raise awareness for WisdomTree Prime.”

WisdomTree’s stock price has risen about 4 per cent since closing the ETF Securities deal in April 2018, though it is far below its mid-2015 highs.

In 2023, Tuckwell succeeded in removing the company’s veteran chair, Frank Salerno. He now seeks to depose the current chair, Win Neuger, alongside board member Anthony Bossone and Steinberg, who personally owns about 6 per cent of the company.

WisdomTree’s annual meeting is scheduled for June 12.

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