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The ghost of Evelyn Davis

There’s been some chatter recently about corporate annual meetings getting too out of control — or as JP Morgan Chase put it in this recent filing “spiraling frivolousness”. But given how the majority of annual meetings these days are held via Zoom, it seems a bit ridiculous to argue that the current situation is anything close to the drama that people like the late Evelyn Davis used to generate.

Having been to a few meetings that Davis spoke at, where she chided some of the biggest names in business at length, today’s shareholder resolutions don’t seem quite so dramatic. And, given that the majority of most resolutions fail and that even those that pass often go nowhere, corporate concerns about annual meetings seem a tad whiny. Yet here’s what JPM wrote in full about the annual meeting process:

One of the reasons it is less desirable to be a public company is because of the spiraling frivolousness of the annual shareholder meeting, which has devolved into mostly a showcase of grandstanding and competing special interest groups.

Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs held its annual meeting. While there were 8 shareholder resolutions on the proxy, none of them passed (although a few did receive some significant votes according to the results). A shareholder proposal calling for transparency in lobbying — the horror! — came the closest to passing with more than 91 million votes in favor. But even assuming the resolution had passed, the company is under no obligation to act on it.

Perhaps one way to make annual meetings more, um, efficient, would be to actually require majority voting, so that if a shareholder resolution passes, whether it applies to an individual director, say on pay or some other issue, something actually happens. No frivolity involved!