Tis a rare moment when the exalted poobahs of Corporate America actually have to spend some time in the same room with their loyal and not-so-loyal shareholders.
One of those days each year is called the annual shareholder's meeting. We're neck deep in the season of annual meetings. Each publicly traded company unveils its version of corporate theater on its shareholder day. Some are formal, standoffish and obtuse events, especially at companies whose share prices dropped severely. Others are casual, particularly for those with some positive news to share of the rough past year.
Leading up to each shareholder meeting is a published annual proxy statement. It's part libretto, telling you who the company players are. It's part mandatory disclosure and includes attempts to justify the high pay of their top executives. And it's part confession of at least some of the sins of excess so many companies seem prone to lay at the feet of their top officers.
A skim through a handful of recent proxy statements, which companies make public by filing them with the Securities and Exchange Commission, can be quite revealing. Here are three samples:
• Tampa's Walter Industries has apparently had it with its corporate past and historical ties to the now-catatonic housing business. So it's seeking shareholder approval to change its name to Walter Energy Inc. to reflect a newfound focus on mining metallurgical coal used for making steel.
"Our current name, Walter Industries Inc., implies involvement in two or more industries," argues Walter's proxy. Walter's annual meeting takes place on April 23 at the Marriott Tampa Airport at 10 a.m.
• Lakeland's Publix Super Markets, No. 1 in the Florida grocery market, must face Tampa's Susan McLung, co-owner of 3,250 Publix shares, whose shareholder resolution would require Publix to issue a report on its progress in the way animals are treated in the production of pork, eggs and poultry.
Other supermarket chains are more progressive, McLung suggests. Publix wants its shareholders to vote against McLung's resolution and argues it buys from leading suppliers that are "phasing in handling measures" that improve animal welfare. Publix's annual meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. on April 14 at the company's Lakeland headquarters.
• Clearwater's Lincare Holdings, a major provider of oxygen services, acknowledged in its proxy that CEO John Byrnes received total compensation last year of more than $6.5 million — plus a few perks. The company pays for his golf club membership, as well as his undergoing an "extensive physical examination that is not otherwise available to employees."
More unusual, perhaps, is Lincare's making available to its executive officers personal use of company-owned and -operated aircraft. Why? A board of directors' committee said it "believes that the use of such aircraft provides for a higher level of personal security for the company's executive officers."
Lincare's annual meeting is scheduled for May 11 at 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Select on Ulmerton Road.
If you own any shares in a public company, you can attend its shareholder meeting. Go. Sometimes it's better than Broadway.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.