Sunday, April 10, 2016

Investors Gone Wild - German annual shareholder meetings

We call shareholders investors instead of using more loaded or outright negative words, such as gambler. We talk of sharehholder value when dividends are increased and wages kept flat.  And every now and then, a news story makes the rounds telling us how a fortune's worth of old shares in a famous company discovered in the attic of a grandfather or a hermit lift surprised heirs out of poverty.

Every year, those stock holders who are direct owners of shares congregate in places small and large and are made to feel that they have a say in the direction of companies, in the election of board members.

Scheming and backstabbing among company leaders often come to a head in the run up to the annual meeting, but the public very rarely gets the kind of insight delivered by an article in "middle of the road conservative" German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

It began with an argument between two shareholders at this year's Daimler annual meeting in Berlin. Daimler is one of Germany's most prestigious companies, maker of Mercedes Benz cars, buses and trucks, owner of the iconic US brand Freightliner, and more.

Police were called to the event of about 5500 shareholders after one proud Daimler stockholder repeatedly took to the buffet and packed hot dogs to take home with him. Another shareholder, obviously well aware that the hot dogs also came out of her part ownership in Daimler, confronted the man, who proceeded to insult the lady, leading to the call to police.

This incident must have prompted the editors of well behaved FAZ to list a few other food related incidents at shareholder meetings.

According to the article, Deutsche Bank had to order more food because they ran out by 11 AM, despite of what they and other planners had considered a generous amount of refreshments.

A retailer used the meet up to kill two birds with one stone: they pulled lots of unsold Easter merchandise from their warehouse and have it away to shareholders, warehouses free for new stock and shareholders happy.

To the blogster, these and other stories of investors being childish and greedy pose a question. Does this display of ignorance and self centered behavior influence how a company's leaders see their world, how they conduct business?

Or is the majority of top executives in large publicly traded companies a generically self centered lot anyway? Much seems to indicate the latter, for example, the latest news that the executives of automaker VW, including disgraced ex Chief Winterkorn, insist on getting their bonus payments despite the fallout from the emissions scandal?

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