After a series of stumbles in the data storage business, Imation Corp. is ready to try something completely different.
And in an unusual twist, the company hopes its past failures will help ease the way for new profits.
In recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Oakdale-based company described a plan to move Imation into the asset-management business with the help of Clinton Group Inc., a New York hedge fund that recently ousted the company's top executive.
Under the plan, which is subject to approval by stockholders, Clinton would provide asset-management services to clients of a new Imation subsidiary called North Stars Technologies.
In return, Clinton would receive at least 12.5 million shares of stock in Imation, or about 25 percent of the outstanding shares. The shares would currently be worth about $8 million, filings show.
Clinton, which controls a portfolio worth more than $2 billion, has been managing the assets of institutional investors and high net worth individuals since 1991. Imation, by contrast, was a tape, DVD and data storage company spun off from 3M Co. two decades ago that has struggled to find a path to profitability.
Imation has been liquidating its core businesses and sold its corporate headquarters in Oakdale earlier this year, but the company still has an office in Minnesota. Imation hopes to steer as much as $1 billion in asset management work to Clinton within five years.
"These approaches will enable us to realize our goal to create significant long-term stockholder value by building a sustainable and profitable business," the board said in a securities filing.
Ironically, Imation's biggest contribution to the new venture may be all of the losses the company has piled up over the years. Altogether, Imation has net operating losses of $467.1 million that could be used to avoid the payment of taxes on future profits, according to the filings. Those tax advantages won't begin expiring until 2026.
It's a bold strategy that has worked for others, including President-elect Donald Trump, who reportedly declared a net operating loss of $916 million on his 1995 tax returns that could have enabled him to avoid paying federal taxes for years.
Imation and Clinton officials declined to discuss the proposal, citing SEC regulations.
The plan must still be reviewed by federal regulators, and shareholders will be asked to vote on the proposal sometime next year.
The new plan is endorsed by Imation's board, which is now led by Joseph De Perio, one of Clinton's senior portfolio managers.
Clinton staged a proxy battle for control of Imation last year that led to the departures of former President and CEO Mark Lucas and two other directors.
In 2015, Imation took steps to protect its potential tax write-offs by adopting a plan that would substantially limit the value of those losses if there were a major ownership change at the company. In a 2015 news release, Imation said such a change would take place if one of its major investors increased its ownership stake "by more than 50 percentage points" in a three-year period.
Though the new plan would substantially increase Clinton's 5 percent stake in Imation, the board believes the distribution of 12.5 million new shares to Clinton "will not be deemed to result in Clinton becoming an 'Acquiring Person' or give rise to a 'Triggering Event,' " according to Imation's federal filings.
Typically, the tax advantages of retained losses are reserved for stockholders who have suffered through a period of unprofitability by offsetting taxes once a company becomes profitable again.
Since Imation has no track record in asset management, the proposal will hinge on the reputation and marketing savvy of Clinton.
The firm made Barrons' list of the 100 top-performing hedge funds of 2016, but its portfolio is also less than half what it was a decade ago, when Clinton was among the fastest-growing hedge funds in the country.