Annual meetings of shareholders of public companies often feature: attendance by a modest number of shareholders, and by the company’s external legal counsel, auditor, investor-relations firm, service providers and other assorted hangers-on; the casting of virtually all votes prior to the meeting by way of proxy; perfunctory reviews of the past fiscal year by the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer; and one or two desultory questions from shareholders. In short, annual meetings haven’t evolved in the last 30 years. Excitement arises only if activist shareholders storm the meeting or if unionized employees speak, particularly if a strike is threatened or in progress.
It’s time for public companies to bring their annual meetings into the digital age and to use them as an effective means of communicating with a large number of shareholders and with the investment community in general. A revamped annual meeting may even lead to reduced costs when compared to the traditional model of renting a conference room at a hotel and providing refreshments, as modest as they may be, for shareholders. Canadian corporate law provides a framework which can be used to increase shareholder access to annual meetings and to maximize the impact of annual meetings.