By Ross Kerber
BOSTON | Tue Oct 5, 2010 5:43pm EDT
(Reuters) - Symantec Corp said it plans to
hold part of its 2011 annual shareholders meeting in a live setting after
criticism that its online-only 2010 meeting shielded executives from tough
The decision marks a victory
for governance activists and investors who objected to Symantec's September
20 shareholders' meeting. The maker of security software, with revenues of
roughly $6 billion annually, was the largest company so far to hold its
annual meeting only in cyberspace.
"We've listened to the
feedback from our stockholders and will host a hybrid meeting next year," a
Symantec spokeswoman emailed. "We remain committed to open communications
with our stockholders and understand the importance for stockholders to
share their concerns."
The decision is "fantastic,"
said Glyn Holton, executive director of United States Proxy Exchange, a
shareholder rights group that had pressed Symantec on the meeting's format.
"Individual investors, who
have long been neglected and ignored, can have an impact," Holton said.
The skirmish at Symantec is
part of a broader battle over the rights of individual corporate
On Monday, the U.S. Securities
and Exchange Commission put on hold a new rule that would have made it
easier for shareholders to nominate corporate directors, after business
groups challenged the rule in court.
Electing directors is
typically one of the main orders of business at shareholder meetings. But
most meetings are sparsely attended by shareholders, and more companies have
added online features to encourage participation.
A rule change in Delaware in
2000 also allowed some companies to turn meetings into online-only affairs,
which are cheaper to stage.
Still, such events were rare
until recently, when the New York proxy services firm Broadridge Financial
Solutions Inc launched a service to put meetings online. So far this year
more than a dozen companies, including Symantec, adopted the format.
But Symantec's decision drew
howls from investors, including California's two large public pension funds,
who worried the format would not give investors an adequate chance to grill
Faced with similar concerns
from Holton's group, chipmaker Intel Corp changed its plan and added back a
"live" portion of its annual meeting earlier this year.
Symantec's event was staged as
an audio feed on the company's website. The company drew further complaints
from Newground Social Investment, a Seattle investment firm whose executives
said several questions they typed into the site during the event were
ignored or paraphrased beyond recognition.
Carl Hagberg, a corporate
elections judge based in New York whose company has overseen several
online-only meetings this year, said he wasn't surprised by Symantec's
"Symantec learned a lesson,"
But he added that standards
for large companies like Symantec and Intel may turn out to be different
than for smaller companies, whose meetings often attract no outside
investors at all.
Hagberg said he would be
comfortable with online-only meetings at smaller companies, provided
shareholders had the right to demand some sort of live event as well. Few
live events would actually be called, he said, since the mundane business of
the meetings often fails to thrill.
Shares in Symantec rose 1.73
percent to close at $15.28 in trading on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber;