Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Business

IBM hosts subdued shareholders meeting in Tampa

TAMPA — This tale of two annual meetings held simultaneously in Florida Tuesday by a pair of corporate giants couldn't have a more stark contrast.

Protesters interrupted a lively Wells Fargo's shareholder meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach in which a community activist was removed.

Meanwhile across the state, IBM shareholders held a largely sedate morning gathering at the Marriott Waterside Hotel in Tampa.

Around 115 people attended including a front row filled with about a dozen current employees. Though foot traffic was scant, security was fairly robust compared to the crowd. Attendees had to walk through twin metal detectors to enter the meeting, and security was posted outside the bathrooms and near the main entrance to the hotel.

CEO Ginni Rometty led the meeting, delivering an update on IBM's plans and financial performance. She reaffirmed the company's push toward software instead of hardware as its way forward.

"Data is the world's new natural resource and the new basis for competitive advantage," she said.

The company of 380,000 employees reported $18.16 billion in revenue in its first quarter, down just under 3 percent from $18.68 billion in the year-ago quarter. Net income was down as well — falling to $1.75 billion from $2.01 billion.

Rometty had received criticism earlier for the $33 million annual pay package in a time of declining earnings, but shareholders gave a thumbs-up on the proposed compensation for its executives on Tuesday, including Rometty's package.

A preliminary advisory vote in favor of the proposed compensation was announced at the meeting. It will go next to the board of directors for final approval.

Among the agenda items was a shareholder proposal for increased transparency for IBM's lobbying expenses and agenda, as well as how much oversight the board of directors has over lobbying. Paul Neuhauser, a retired professor in Clearwater, presented the proposal.

"We are ever hopeful" IBM will be more transparent, he said after the event.

The only sign of discontent from shareholders came during the question-and-answer period. Tampa shareholder Mark Witte asked what IBM was doing to monetize intellectual property beyond the super-computer Watson to better compete with other tech companies and create higher dividends.

"(It's like) I'm with IBM on a Schwinn and everyone else is driving a Tesla," he said.

IBM is working on just that, Rometty said, by focusing on "software and services," her bread and butter at the company. Before becoming CEO in 2011, Rometty was vice president of IBM Global Business Services.

Witte, after the meeting, said he was satisfied with her answer.

An IBM spokesman said the company often rotates the location of its annual meeting among sites where it has standing operations. Previous annual meetings were at Savannah, Ga., and Huntsville, Ala.

Tampa's Rocky Point office is IBM's largest facility in the state. It has roughly 1,000 employees in the Tampa Bay area, though many of them work remotely.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] Follow @malenacarollo.

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