Ira Lubert joins Safeguard insurgents

Stephen Zarrilli is president and chief executive of Safeguard Scientifics, which laid off around half of its staff in early January.

Ira Lubert, one of the Philadelphia area’s most successful private investors, has joined Safeguard Scientifics shareholder Darren Wallis in an insurgent slate of candidates that intend to run for Safeguard Scientifics board seats, according to a document delivered to Safeguard offices in Radnor Friday.

Lubert confirmed to the Inquirer his intention to run.

Others on the four-member opposition slate include investors Russell Glass, a onetime aide to billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and Paul McNulty, a former aide to billionaire investor George Soros.

Safeguard CEO Stephen Zarrilli is under pressure from Wallis and other investors who want him to speed up efforts to sell off the company’s remaining investments. They say confidence in Zarrilli’s team has depressed the value of Safeguard’s stock. They also say the company’s board has taken steps to thwart shareholders by changing governance rules in ways that would make it harder for shareholders to change the company’s direction.

Lubert, a former aide to Safeguard founder Warren “Pete” Musser, left Safeguard in the 1990s, saying he didn’t understand the company’s dot.com investments, which later lost value. Lubert instead partnered with real estate investor Dean Adler and other Philadelphia-area professionals to set up a constellation of private-investment firms, whose clients include the Pennsylvania public-school teachers (PSERS) and state workers (SERS) investment funds. Lubert says his firms have invested $8 billion in real estate, private firms, and other assets now valued at a total of $18 billion.

Safeguard shares have languished in recent years. Earlier this winter, Zarrilli and his team said they would lay off half the staff of around 30 and take steps to sell off the company’s remaining tech-company investments. Wallis’ firm, Maplewood Capital LLC, and other activist shareholders say Zarrilli’s team isn’t moving fast enough and is spending millions of dollars a year that ought to be saved for shareholders. Zarrilli is also chairman of the board at La Salle University.