FOR its annual meeting this
year, the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) is inviting investors to visit its
first-ever online “shareowner forum” on a special password-protected
In a video message posted on
the site, CEO Muhtar Kent explains the significance of the
forum: “As an investor in our company, your voice is absolutely critical to
our future. This website was designed to allow you to more easily share your
voice and also vote your shares.”
But there’s a small problem
with the CEO’s lofty sentiments about giving voice to shareowners. His
words ring hollow when you realize that there’s actually no
mechanism on the site for shareowners to share their “absolutely
critical” viewpoints with one another.
Shareholders can submit
questions to management ahead of the meeting, fill in a shareowner
survey that goes to management, read management’s proxy
materials, vote their shares on a site that is tilted to management’s
recommendations, and watch a webcast of the meeting.
But talk to each other they
23 million Facebook fans and
anyone can post
Now here’s the really
confounding thing. Coke already has one of the most active
and lively discussion forums on the web by way of its popular
Facebook page, which at last count has more than 23 million
Discussion boards on Coca-Cola's Facebook
On that page, the “house
rules” state that the company wants to “encourage you to leave comments,
photos, videos, and links” and that its staff “review all comments and will
remove any that are inappropriate or offensive.”
regularly patrol and participate in the Facebook page’s
discussion board, where anyone can start a new discussion topic and
engage with other page users and the company. Even
shareholders are showing up to ask questions, although no one from the
company seems to want to talk to them.
It seems that if you want to
complain about the lack of cane sugar in US Coke, or want them to bring back
a discontinued flavor, the company is happy to let you to do so.
But if you’re a shareholder
and want to discuss the company’s pay practices or director qualifications
or their use of BPA in soda cans, you can’t.
Shareowner forum poorly
conceived by Broadridge
How Coke’s shareholder
website qualifies as a forum by any definition escapes me. It seems
like little more than a PR stunt.
It’s noteworthy, too, that
the forum cannot be observed by anyone who does not have a 15-digit control
number to log in, which means that prospective investors (or the SEC) have
no ability to see what is — or in this case, is not — discussed in the
Coke is using a poorly
conceived shareholder forum product developed by Broadridge
Financial Solutions Inc. (NYSE: BR), whose CEO has been
lobbying SEC chair Mary Shapiro to
make it mandatory for companies to offer his company’s brand of forum. We
should all hope he fails.
Here’s a grainy screenshot
of Coke’s forum that was filed with the SEC:
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