An investor advocacy group,
the U.S. Proxy Exchange (USPX), is objecting to Symantec's plan to hold
a virtual-only annual meeting on Sept. 20.
The Massachusetts-based group has organized a letter-writing
campaign and is urging both retail and institutional investors to
contact company officials. The group wants the California-based
technology company instead to hold a hybrid meeting, where shareowners
could attend in person or electronically.
"Symantec's share price has been in a steady decline since 2004. The
company's executives are excessively compensated. The decision to hold a
'virtual' meeting gave the impression of embattled executives hiding
behind technology," the group asserts.
Among the investors and groups that have written letters to Symantec are
the Council of Institutional Investors, the California State Teachers'
Retirement System, the First Affirmative Financial Network, SRI
investors Harrington Investors and Clean Yield, U.K.-based Co-operative
Asset Management, and retail activists John Chevedden and Jim McRitchie,
according to Glyn Holton of USPX.
"On September 20, Symantec will set a precedent as the first large
corporation to hold a virtual-only meeting. The shareowner community
cannot be silent as we cross this Rubicon," Holton told ISS.
The group has organized the
"Coalition to Preserve Shareowner Meetings" to bring together
institutional and retail investors to discuss their concerns about
virtual-only meetings. The group plans to hold a conference to develop
safeguards for virtual-only meetings and said it would organize withhold
campaigns against issuers that hold virtual-only meetings without
Shareholder activists have become increasingly concerned that more
companies are considering holding online-only meetings. So far, 13 U.S.
companies have held virtual-only annual meetings, according to
Broadridge Financial, which has developed software to help issuers
conduct such meetings.
Companies point out that most shareholder meetings attract few investors
and are costly to hold, and that online meetings can allow more
shareholders to participate. Issuers also say that most analysts and
institutions no longer attend annual meetings in person.
Walden Asset Management filed a shareholder proposal at Intel after the
chipmaker said it would hold a virtual meeting this year. Walden
withdrew that proposal after the company agreed to continue hybrid
meetings. Walden, along with Jim Epstein of EFO Capital Management,
recently withdrew a similar proposal at Procter & Gamble after the
consumer products giant agreed to refrain from holding an
electronic-only meeting for five years.
"[W]e do not believe that Internet-only meetings should be substituted
for traditional in-person annual meetings. . . . We believe the
tradition of in-person annual meetings plays an important role in
holding management accountable to stockholders," the shareholders argued
in their proposal at P&G. "While some corporations argue that
eliminating the face-to-face annual meeting is a way to reduce costs and
improve efficiency, we believe the investment in creating a physical
space for shareholder meeting is money well spent."