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Cramer breaks down the real power of activist funds to change a company's game

Elizabeth Gurdus

Activist investors demanded changes in companies from Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ: BWLD) to Arconic (NYSE: ARNC) to Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) in the last few weeks, so Jim Cramer took a closer look at how and whether these activist strategies actually work.

The " Mad Money " host first turned to an ongoing battle between Buffalo Wild Wings and activist fund Marcato Capital Management, which owns 6.1 percent of the chain's outstanding stock.

Marcato has repeatedly raised concerns that the restaurant chain's leadership is not doing enough to reach their goals and have no plan in place to do so. The firm even called for the resignation of CEO Sally Smith.

"If you look at the stock of Buffalo Wild Wings, you can understand Marcato's point: I mean, the stock's done nothing for almost four years," Cramer said.

Watch the full segment here:

And, given the recent purchases of Popeye's by Restaurant Brands and Panera Bread by JAB Holdings , Cramer said a vote for Mercato could bring about an eager buyer, or at least turn Buffalo Wild Wings' performance around.

Another consumer food giant, Whole Foods, is also embroiled in dealings with nearly-9-percent stakeholder Jana Partners, which is pushing the high-end grocery chain to consider a sale.

"[On Thursday], Credit Suisse suggested that Kroger (NYSE: KR), the supermarket giant, which needs market share gains to continue growing, is a logical suitor. The stock of Whole Foods has done poorly of late — although, please, you've got to acknowledge it was a star for ages — and I can see why someone would agitate for change," Cramer said.

But the most convoluted fight for control is the one over high-tech aluminum producer Arconic, which was created from industrial giant Alcoa's split last year.

Activist investor Elliott Management, led by Paul Singer, has been gunning for Arconic CEO Klaus Kleinfeld , which the activist fund believes has been doing a poor job leading the company.

Kleinfeld fought back, insisting Arconic was a well-run company, but his latest move — sending a letter directly to Singer making veiled accusations about Singer's alleged actions after a 2006 soccer match in Berlin — doomed him, Cramer said.

While Cramer favored the Alcoa-Arconic split and Kleinfeld's history as CEO, the "Mad Money" host said it is time to give Elliott's team and their "excellent slate" a chance.

"Did Elliott play a level of hardball that caused Kleinfeld to suspend his better judgment? It doesn't matter now. What matters is that if you want Arconic's stock to go higher ... I believe that Elliott's insurgents should get the vote. They can better handle the ropes," Cramer said.

And although hedge funds' power to incite real change in companies has come into question of late, it seems to Cramer like activist investors are here to stay.

"Activism's a tough game. But all of these instances show it just might be working and it's way too early to say that it's peaked," he said.

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