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Investors can be real bad-asses

Back in our schoolyard days, the most effective bully was the early bloomer who used his physical advantages for ill. In the arenas where most of us play today, a head-thumper’s might is more likely a function of money than muscle. Just look at what’s happening at Tim Hortons, a concept that could teach McDonald’s a thing or two about market dominance, at least in Timmy’s homeland of Canada.

The company just announced that it will change CEOs for the second time in roughly two years on July 1. Ostensibly the shift has been coming since then-CEO Don Schroeder left headquarters in May 2011. Former CEO Paul House dusted off his old business cards to fill the vacancy on an interim basis until a permanent replacement was named this summer.

That timeframe has been accelerated; the board said yesterday that it found the ideal hire in Marc Caira, previously president of Nestle Professional, the company’s foodservice-supply operation.

It’s merely a coincidence that the earlier-than-expected change came amid pressure from a major shareholder in Hortons, Highfields Capital Management, to change the company’s direction. Highfields, which owns about 4 percent of Hortons’ shares, wants the doughnut powerhouse to focus on its Canadian operations, to the point of abandoning its expansion into the U.S.

And who’s been plotting that charge into the States? Paul House.

Did I mention that he'll leave Hortons in early July, or roughly in the timeframe when the company was  expecting to name a permanent new CEO?

Highfields is the latest example of an investor second-guessing how a company should be run. House has spent 21 years in the C suite of Hortons, and also served as a director of the chain’s former parent, Wendy’s.

But Highfields is convinced it knows better. And it looks as if it’s getting its way.

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