Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Fix the Annual Meeting

It seems that no one — management, boards, shareholders — is happy with how annual meetings are conducted these days. Annual meetings can be a frustrating and often futile exercise — in meeting statutory requirements, yes, but not much else as a worthy vehicle for demonstrating corporate leadership and facilitating shareholder relations.

Thus, the cover story for the first Directors & Boards issue of 2011 will be:

What’s Wrong with the Annual Meeting . . . and How to Fix It

I am going to seek a roundup of opinion on what to do about the annual meeting. The seed of this article idea was planted this past summer when I was a peripheral participant in a study group looking at "Electronic Participation in Shareholder Meetings" — i.e., the pros and cons of virtual annual meetings and the practices necessary to hold a meeting that meets the needs of all parties. This group was organized by a close colleague, Gary Lutin, through The Shareholder Forum initiative that he chairs.

The virtual annual meeting will be an important dimension of the discussion, and possibly factor in as a "key fix" — or maybe not, depending on the input I get from important players who are doing virtual meetings or thinking of going in this direction. Early adopters, and their shareholders, have had some rocky initial experiences with virtual meetings.

And there may be other fixes that we should focus on for reconfiguring the annual meeting for a coming governance era of heightened transparency and disclosure.

Stay tuned. It should make for a lively lead article in the Q1 Directors & Boards.

Photo: A Johnson & Johnson annual meting from the 1970s, courtesy of Kilmer House.