Starboard Value’s Jeffrey Smith, one of the busiest activist investors for two decades, said companies have grown more receptive to voices like him. “We usually don’t have to go as far,” Smith said at CNBC’s Financial Advisor Summit . “Many of you might be surprised, but they all want to work with us. … They’re more open to hearing our thoughts and having a nice discussion about what can be done with the company and how the company can be improved.” It marks a sharp contrast from the environment when he first started his career. Smith was known for his proxy win over Olive Garden operator Darden Restaurants in 2014, which is perhaps the best example of how shrewd and tough an activist investor he is. Smith managed to replace Darden’s entire board of 12 directors. “In the earliest of our years, boards were not receptive at all,” Smith said “Those times were difficult, and you had to really push very, very hard and be willing to run contests all the time.” Smith also sought a turnaround at pizza chain Papa John’s in 2019 at a tumultuous time for the company . Last year, he took an activist stake in software company Salesforce . The Starboard CEO was even active during the Covid-19 pandemic . He has previously called for changes at Humana, Kohl’s, Mercury Systems and other companies. “In the last 10, 15 years, we’ve achieved a position that I’m not sure we planned on achieving, but it’s really kind of unbelievable. We’re simultaneously respected and feared inside companies,” Smith said. The Wharton graduate launched the Starboard Value investment strategy at Ramius in 2002. Nine years later, he spun out his New York-based hedge fund and became its CEO. “More often than not, now the conversations are highly constructive and respectful and relatively easy,” Smith said.