Annual shareholder meetings become perfunctory exercises
What a dud last week's Consol Energy Inc.'s annual shareholder meeting turned out to be: short and uninspiring.
And that's the pattern of shareholder meetings nowadays, with the noble exception of Berkshire Hathaway's yearly spectacular in Omaha, where Warren Buffett and his vice chairman meet with 30,000 owners and answer questions for hours.
Typical meetings are over in 15 minutes.
It's the legal least a management can do: assemble their bosses (ha!) once a year in a hotel conference room to collect the votes — nearly all by proxy anyway — to re-elect themselves and their auditors.
This is an anti-climax and a missed opportunity.
Everybody in the seats of the crash-prone vehicle called capitalism ought to have more of a chance to talk to the drivers, especially when their company does something important. Producing food or medicine, say. Or cars or airplanes, or in this case, digging for coal and drilling for oil.
Shouldn't all that be worth talking shop about?
And this with the everyday owners? True, their votes don't amount to much against the millions of proxies recruited by Wall Street from mutual and pension funds, investment firms and bank trust departments.
But economic freedom needs the foot soldier. The little guy is a voter in national elections. Keep him interested.
Unhappily, like the beautiful annual reports of old, lively shareholder meetings aren't now in vogue. Escaping attention is.
Bureaucrats are in charge. Just give them the statutory requirements, please: certification that a quorum is “present” — actually a ghost assemblage of proxies by mail and internet — a pause for questions (rarely any). then seeya next year.
Consol Energy's meeting didn't even use a microphone. The CEO offered not the slightest speech on the state of business. He might have said something he shouldn't, which would have upset the lawyers and accountants in the front rows, all in practically identical navy and black suits. The few folks in back didn't ask one question, perhaps awed at how well-oiled it all seemed to go. Fifteen minutes might be an over-estimate.
What's called for is a new generation of Wilma Soss, Evelyn Y. Davis and especially the Gilbert brothers, “gadfly” shareholders all.
Lewis and John Gilbert of New York would stand up, call points of order, ask, criticize, nitpick and suggest from the opening gavel. And they snapped back if anyone tried to shush them. No awe there. They hinted that company planes were misued. They attacked stock options for diluting the holdings of others. And Lew Gilbert memorably made an issue of it when CEO pay shockingly topped $1 million. (What would be say now?) He'd surely expect a Consol answer to the Obama administration's “war on coal,” other than to sell coal mines. But the floor produced only silence last week.
Capitalism should put new life in the annual meeting.
Big Brother is its nemesis, not Little Investor.
Jack Markowitz is a columnist of Trib Total Media. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Retailers that won’t open on Thanksgiving hope move pays off
- Lower gasoline prices fail to spur consumer spending
- Household debt on the rise after 5-year decline
- Oil prices continue descent, dragging market indexes lower
- Google applies tech to medical device
- Federal agency checking whether Highmark has enough doctors in Medicare plan