What Is a Hostile Takeover?

By Michael Flannelly · June 11, 2024 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right.

What Is a Hostile Takeover?

A hostile takeover is when one entity or investor tries to take control of a company without the permission of that company’s management or board of directors. That’s why the unwelcome acquisition bid is considered ‘hostile.’

There are various ways a hostile takeover can occur. The hostile company or investor may make a tender offer to buy the other company’s shares directly from shareholders. Or they may attempt a proxy fight, where the hostile company tries to replace the other company’s board of directors.

The implications of a hostile takeover can affect investors of all stripes. If you own shares of the companies involved, the outcome of a takeover can be important for short- and long-term stock price movements.

How Hostile Takeovers Work

A hostile takeover is a type of legal acquisition in which a bidder — either another company or an investor — seeks to acquire a majority stake in the target company without the approval of the target’s board of directors. Hostile takeovers are often characterized by aggressive tactics such as proxy fights, tender offers, and open letters to company shareholders.

This aggressive action contrasts with typical acquisitions, where two companies work together to agree on a deal, and the board of directors of the target company approves of the purchase. Investors who own stock in a company that’s involved in any kind of merger or takeover need to pay attention to the motives, proposed terms, and possible outcomes.

Reasons for a Hostile Takeover

There are many reasons why a company or investor may try to take over another company. Hostile takeovers happen when a target company’s management refuses initial takeover offers, but the bidding company is persistent in its efforts to acquire the company.

Sometimes it’s because the stock market undervalues the target company’s shares, and the bidder believes that they can increase the company’s value. Other times, it may be because the bidder wants the target company’s assets, brand recognition, or market share.

If the company making the hostile takeover successfully acquires a majority of the shares, then it can gain control of the target company. Once in power, the acquiring company can make changes to the target company’s management, strategy, and operations.

In some cases, the company making the hostile takeover may take steps to increase the value of the company, such as selling off non-core assets, cutting costs, or increasing investment in research and development.

Recommended: How to Buy Stocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

Hostile Takeover Strategies

There are a few ways a company may pursue a hostile takeover. Sometimes a bidder may try to buy a significant percentage of shares of the target company on the open market, hoping to gain enough voting power to persuade the board of directors to accept a takeover offer. If that doesn’t work, the bidder uses its voting power to change management.

The bidder may also take aggressive measures, such as making open letters to shareholders or launching a public relations campaign to pressure the target company’s management to accept the offer. The most common hostile takeover tactics include:

•   Tender offers: A tender offer is when the bidding company reaches out directly to the target company’s shareholders, offering to purchase shares — usually at a premium to the current market value. The bidder pursues a tender offer to bypass a company’s leadership and get enough shares to have a controlling stake in the company. Each shareholder can then decide if they want to sell the stake in the company.

•   Proxy fights: A proxy fight is a battle between competing groups of shareholders to gain control of a company. In a hostile takeover, a bidder, which usually owns a portion of the target company’s stock, tries to persuade other shareholders to vote out the target company’s management. This may allow the bidder to replace the board of directors and seize control of the company.

Recommended: Explaining the Shareholder Voting Process

Examples of Hostile Takeovers and Takeover Attempts

A hostile takeover usually starts when the acquiring company makes an unsolicited bid to purchase the target company. If the board of directors of the target company doesn’t approve of the proposal, they may reject the offer. The acquiring company then will pursue a hostile takeover bid by going directly to the shareholders or trying to replace the board of directors.

However, hostile takeovers don’t usually reach this conclusion. The target companies may defend themselves, causing the bidding company to drop the takeover attempt. Or the target company’s board of directors will relent and eventually agree to terms on an acquisition.

In some cases, antitrust laws or shareholder resistance can thwart a hostile takeover in its tracks.

Choice Hotels’ Attempted Takeover of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

When Choice Hotels International, Inc. (CHH) made a hostile bid for Wyndham (WH) early in 2023, concerns arose over the potential for a monopoly, given that each company controlled multiple hotel brands and close to half a million hotel rooms.

Choice made multiple attempts to acquire Wyndham, starting in April 2023, but by December their strategy had evolved into an outright takeover. The $7.8 billion attempt did not go through, however, and Choice backed out in March of 2024, citing a lack of shareholder support.

JetBlue’s Strategy to Acquire Spirit Airlines

In March of 2024, JetBlue (JBLU) scuttled its attempted $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines (SAVE). This marked the end of JetBlue’s protracted pursuit of the smaller budget airline, which began as a merger proposal in 2022. After Spirit rebuffed JetBlue’s advance, the situation devolved into a hostile takeover — with a twist. JetBlue hoped to prevent Spirit from joining forces with Frontier. Unfortunately, the Justice Department ruled against the takeover, and a similar fate befell the Spirit + Frontier merger as well.

Elon Musk Takes Over Twitter

In one of the more well-known hostile bids in recent years, Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk moved to take over Twitter in 2023, in a months-long process that was closely followed — and widely debated — by business and media alike.

Despite speculation that the hostile takeover would not succeed, The final $44 billion deal resulted in a complete rebranding of Twitter as X.

Sanofi’s Acquisition of Genzyme

The French healthcare company Sanofi (SNY) attempted a hostile takeover of the American pharmaceutical firm Genzyme in 2010. Before the hostile bid, Sanofi’s management made several friendly offers to buy Genzyme, but the American company’s management declined.

As a result, Sanofi courted shareholders to gather support for a deal and made a tender offer. This put pressure on Genzyme management to finally accept a deal, which they did. Sanofi bought Genzyme for $20.1 billion in 2011.

Kraft Foods’ Takeover of Cadbury

Kraft Foods (KHC), an American food company, launched a hostile bid for Cadbury, a UK-based chocolate company, in 2009. The hostile takeover was motivated by Kraft’s desire to increase its market share in the global confectionery market and acquire Cadbury’s valuable portfolio of brands. Cadbury’s management opposed the takeover and put together a hostile takeover defense team. Also, Cadbury shareholders and the UK government opposed the deal. However, Kraft was ultimately successful in acquiring Cadbury, and the takeover was completed in 2010 for $19.6 billion.

How Can Companies Defend Against Hostile Takeovers?

Companies can deploy various strategies to defend against a potential or imminent hostile takeover. These defensive plans are intended to make the hostile takeover more difficult, expensive, or less attractive to the bidder.

Poison Pill

Companies may adopt a shareholder rights plan, more commonly known as a poison pill, to protect themselves from a hostile bidder. With a poison pill, the target company’s shareholders have the right to purchase additional shares at a discount if a hostile takeover attempt is made, diluting the ownership of the existing shareholders. This makes it more expensive for the acquirer to buy a controlling stake in the company and often deters hostile takeover attempts altogether.

Golden Parachute

A golden parachute is a hostile takeover defense where the target company offers its top executives large severance packages if another firm takes over the company and the executives are terminated due to the acquisition. This makes the purchase more expensive and unattractive for a potential buyer.

Pac-Man Defense

A Pac-Man defense is an offensive strategy employed by a target company in a hostile takeover attempt. A Pac-Man defense refers to a target company that fights back against a hostile bidder by launching its own takeover bid for the bidder.

How Hostile Takeovers Affect Investors

A hostile takeover can significantly affect investors who own shares of either the target or bidding company, causing uncertainty in short- and long-term stock market prospects.

In the short term, investors who own shares of the competing companies may see share prices rise or fall, depending on whether the markets view the proposal as a good or bad deal.

Recommended: Understanding Market Sentiment

The target company’s management may also make the company less attractive to a bidder, such as by adopting poison pill provisions or increasing debt levels. These tactics may increase costs and debt burdens, which may negatively impact the long-term outlook for the company.

However, the target company’s share price may be positively affected as the hostile company tries to buy the target company’s shares at a premium.

If the hostile takeover is successful, the investors in the target company may see a change in the management of the company, as well as a potential change in the company’s strategy. This may change the long-term outlook for the company, which may be bullish or bearish for investors.

On a macro level, a hostile takeover can also affect the industries in which the target company and bidder operate. If the hostile takeover is successful, the industry may see a consolidation of companies, affecting market competition and share prices of related firms.

The Takeaway

Investors may hear about hostile takeover bids in the press, causing them to wonder how the situation may affect them and their portfolios. In some situations, the stock of the companies involved may go up, and the stock may go down in other situations. In the end, it’s essential to monitor the news of the deal carefully and pay attention to price fluctuations.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.

Photo credit: iStock/gorodenkoff

SoFi Invest®


SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.


TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender