Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Online Shareholder Meetings

Yesterday, the New York Times had an article on Intel's annual shareholder meeting, which was held virtually this year. Steven Davidoff Solomon's position is that these online meetings, while technologically feasible these days, are a bad idea because they remove the ability for the company to "bond" with their shareholders.

The list of companies cited by Mr. Solomon included Intel, GoPro, SeaWorld Entertainment, PayPal, Fitbit and Yelp, who have all held virtual meetings. The advantages to the virtual meetings tend to be cost-related as the companies do not have to pay for location expenses like travel, food and other overhead related expenses. Also, the virtual meeting method allows for shareholders who can not physically attend the meeting to be included.

Using the virtual meeting, companies can also control the actions of shareholders, including protests, questions and proposals that would often arise in person at the annual meetings. By having these items submitted in advance of the meeting, the board of directors is able to plan a response in advance and have it vetted by legal counsel and other interested parties before addressing the shareholders.

While the virtual meeting may be on the rise, the article also points to the in-person shareholder meetings of Berkshire Hathaway and Disney as examples of annual meetings that are "fun" for the shareholders, which demonstrates the importance of the personal interaction with shareholders.

Comparing the companies in the article to the companies that I represents, it seems that many of my clients use the virtual meeting as well, simply because they are smaller companies with fewer shareholders and they are often spread across the country (and sometimes the world). The company's budget is better served by utilizing the virtual meeting method to get their business done. Many of the companies have shareholders who are friends and family, given the opportunity to invest as the business got off the ground, and that familiarity allows for personal interaction, even when done virtually for the annual meeting.

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