Symantec Targeted for Virtual-Only Mtg.

Over five years, Symantec Corporation has delivered an appalling negative 50% return for investors. Management is paid excessively and has avoided communications with shareowners. Later this month, they plan to post what amounts to an Internet feed, in lieu of a regular annual meeting. This has the appearance of embattled executives hiding behind technology. Shareowners are responding with a letter writing campaign protesting the virtual-only annual meeting. Join in this effort to discourage the shift away from real meetings where shareowners can ask questions in person, see management’s reactions and discuss the issues with other shareowners.

Read more about the campaign being coordinated by the United States Proxy Exchange. On the right side of their page you will find Resources, including a Campaign Document and three sample letters. USPX is also asking that you cc them so they can post all the letters.

I’m not a shareowner of Symantec myself but, as a journalist interested in corporate governance issues, I sent the e-mail posted below and I’ve gotten no response.

From: James McRitchie < [email protected]>
Date: September 3, 2010 5:46:38 PM PDT
To:
[email protected]
Cc: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Subject: Symantec Virtual-Only

Dear Ms. Corcos:

My reports on corporate governance are widely circulated and I was recently named by the National Association of Corporate Directors to a “short list of movers and shakers who merit serious attention as potential boardroom influentials.” I’m hoping you or another representative from Symantec will answer a few questions by return e-mail or by telephone interview concerning this path-breaking decision by the largest company to date to hold a virtual-only annual meeting.

As you may be aware, after Delaware changed its laws in 2000 to allow virtual-only annual meetings, the Council of Institutional Investors (CII, whose member’s assets exceed $3 trillion) wrote letters to the CEOs of all companies incorporated in Delaware urging them not to conduct virtual-only meetings. In the face of such opposition, who made the decision at Symantec and what was the rationale for deciding to hold a virtual-only annual meeting?

With the erosion of shareholder value during the last five years and the high pay provided to current and former CEOs, some investors see the decision to hold a virtual-only meeting as an attempt to hide from investors and/or limit discussions. How would the Company counter such a charge?

As you may know, months ago Intel announced it would hold a virtual-only meeting but decided instead to go with a hybrid meeting, after it encountered protests from investors. Which of Symantec’s shareholders, if any, were consulted on the idea of moving to a virtual-only meeting?

Some investors have expressed concerns that virtual-only meetings would deprive them of the opportunity to meet with company representatives face to face. They believe that physical meetings allow investors to better express their positions – and that management and the board listen more closely when communications are made in person. What measures is Symantec taking, if any, to ensure shareholders can ask questions, know what concerns are being expressed by other shareholders or meet other concerns expressed by shareholders like the members of CII?

Can we schedule a telephone interview for sometime early next week?

Thanks for your attention and early response,

4 Responses to Symantec Targeted for Virtual-Only Mtg.

  1. ProxyAnalyst September 8, 2010 at 6:38 am #

    James, does an in-person annual meeting really matter anymore? I don’t think so. Whether a company holds an annual meeting in-person, online or at all has no relationship to corporate performance. The annual meeting, whatever format it takes, is perhaps a symptom of bigger problems. Shareholder meetings are theater plain and simple. It’s time for activist shareholders to become creative in their efforts to effect change. See my post at http://globalinvestmentwatch.com/symantec-and-the-virtual-meeting/

  2. James McRitchie September 8, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    John, just because you went to a meeting last year (or many meetings over many years) that was uneventful doesn’t mean that can’t change. Sorry, but your comment shows a lack of imagination all too common in today’s shareowners. Have you read Lewis Gilbert’s book (http://corpgov.net/wordpress/?p=1621)?

    Gilbert used to attend meetings with pockets full of proxies given over to him so that he could vote based on events at the meeting… he could even make motions from the floor. While you can’t make motions from the floor at most meetings these days because of advance notice requirements, proxies can still be assigned and meetings could actually involve deliberations. See, for example, http://www.contingencyanalysis.com/home/papers/suffrage.pdf.

    I’m not totally opposed to all-virtual meetings. However, if shareowners are going to give up face-to-face contact, we should get something in return. For example, perhaps we should know all the questions that shareowners raised during the meeting so we can see if questions were cherry picked. We don’t have that right now; we don’t even have the legal right to ask questions. Gary Lutin recently held a forum on e-meetings http://www.shareholderforum.com/e-mtg/index.htm. The USPX http://proxyexchange.org/ will soon hold another that may go into further depth where shareowners will actually vote on best practices.

    Abolishing annual meetings is not the answer.

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