Since we’re talking about yearly responsibilities, now’s a good time to start thinking about your company’s annual meeting.
The Basics of the Annual Meeting
Delaware – and most states – requires an annual shareholder meeting. For Delaware corporations, an annual meeting must be held every 13 months. It’s pragmatic to hold them just after the end of the fiscal year to review the previous year’s financial performance and to new director and officer information to be available for the state’s annual report filing on March 1st.
These meetings can be held in person, virtually, or through a hybrid format. Companies can also meet its statutory requirements through a written consent in lieu of a meeting. Make sure to check with your bylaws to ensure your company’s own requirements are satisfied.
Turning Your Annual Meeting Into a Memorable Event
Typically, these affairs are centered on the election of directors, which is the statutory baseline for all companies.
For some large companies, like Berkshire Hathaway, the annual meeting is a major production. Berkshire’s annual meeting infuses Omaha with vibrancy as shareholders from across the globe descend on the otherwise sleepy Midwest city.
Dubbed the “Woodstock for Capitalists,” the annual meeting is the best show in town, filling the 17-thousand seat CHI Health Center to the brim. Another 20-thousand plus are on-hand elsewhere in town for the spillover sales and networking that happens over the four-day weekend.
Warren Buffett, and his right-hand man Charlie Munger, are legend, no doubt. And their acumen and charm is on display for the crowd. Each year, they riff, unscripted, on the company, financial markets, the economy, and more over Cherry Coke and boxes of See’s peanut brittle.
It’s a unique spectacle to be sure. Your startup’s annual meeting may not have the same fanfare, but Buffett’s event does offer some ideas that can make any annual meeting an occasion to look forward to.
Here are three broad, simple takeaways from the Oracle of Ohama that could level up your company’s annual meeting.
Make it Special
You don’t need 17-thousand people to feel the excitement for an event. The real key is that Berkshire Hathaway has made it an event instead of a meeting. Hold your meeting somewhere breathtaking. Invest in the details. Cherry Coke and See’s Candy doesn’t cost much, but it’s a unique part of Buffet and Munger’s performance that delights shareholders every year.
The kings of value investing deliver with their meeting too. In an annual meeting context, this means delivering the statutory minimums for a shareholder meeting. To paraphrase Buffet, create an outstanding meeting at a sensible price.
If you seize the opportunity to inspire, give advice, and build confidence, your shareholders will walk away from the meeting excited about the company, its future, and their role in it.
Engage your audience
Buffet and Munger don’t follow a script. They engage with their shareholders for hours of q&a. They give financial and life advice. They crack jokes. They make it worthwhile for shareholders to book flights and hotels and sit in the arena on a warm Saturday for the change to learn.
Best Practices for Startups
The intimate gathering of a startup’s annual meeting provides an opportunity for officers, directors, and shareholders to strengthen relationships, forge meaningful conversations, and grow together.
In 2018, the “Best Practices Committee for Shareowner Participation in Virtual Annual Meetings” delivered five key principles and 12 best practices companies should incorporate into their annual meetings. This advise can also help you create an outstanding meeting at a sensible price and make your next meeting a conversation your shareholders will look forward to having again and again. The last two are relevant for companies who decide to conduct virtual or hybrid meetings.
Broad investor participation in annual meetings should be valued and encouraged.
Shareowner meetings should promote equitable and equal treatment of investor participants.
Opportunities for meaningful engagement between investors and directors should be provided.
Issuers should communicate the benefits of a virtual meeting to shareowners.
Virtual meetings should be used as a way to provide meaningful open dialogue between shareowners and companies.
Twelve Best Practices
In addition to the five principles, the Committee looked to how technology can help expand and enhance opportunities for participation in a fair and balanced way.
Recognize that the meeting format must be determined before the proxy is published.
When deciding on annual meeting format, companies and their boards should consider the items to be voted on at the meeting as well as other issues that may be of current concern to their shareowners.
Evaluate constantly changing technology and processes for supporting a virtual meeting.
Ensure equal access to all shareowners.
Create formal rules of conduct for the meeting.
Establish reasonable time guidelines for each participant in the virtual meeting.
Establish rules for when questions are out of order.
Establish rules to promote transparency.
Post questions received online during the meeting.
Ensure shareowners have access to board members.
Have a technical support line available.
Archive virtual shareowner meetings for future viewing.
If you’re curious what the Woodstock of Capitalism is all about, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting is live streamed exclusively on Yahoo! Finance on May 4th, 2019 for the fourth straight year.
For more on the Committee’s guiding principles and best practices, you can find the Committee’s full white paper here.