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Activist Comments on Autodesk Stake

Starboard Value, the activist fund run by Jeff Smith, has taken a sizable stake in graphics-design firm Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) and has spoken with the company’s board in recent weeks over a number of serious concerns involving its disclosures around an internal investigation that led to the ouster of its chief financial officer.

Starboard’s stake is valued at roughly $500 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The activist, which has a long track record of investing in the technology sector, is particularly concerned about the timing of Autodesk’s disclosure of an internal investigation which revealed that executives misled investors around the company’s free cash flow metrics and operating margins, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential information freely.

The results of that probe led to the ouster of Autodesk’s then-CFO, Deborah Clifford, who was moved to a different executive role within Autodesk. The probe found that executives manipulated reporting tied to company’s contract billing structure, as Autodesk shifted back to upfront payments from annualized payments, to improve those metrics.

Autodesk first disclosed in April that it had begun an internal investigation into disclosure issues around those metrics, almost a month after it had first begun the investigation and had informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was probing its financial reports. Autodesk shares slid 20% over the next few weeks. The company’s market cap now sits slightly below $50 billion.

ADSK shares sprang up $10.35, or 4.6%, to $236.22.