Bring on the empty rhetoric

Not since soldiers marched on the parade square have I seen anything quite so regimented as the annual meeting. I’ve been to many such corporate gatherings and it matters not a whit whether it’s held in Calgary or Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver – everything is interchangeable from one city to another, one company to another.
Shareholders assemble outside a downtown hotel meeting room for free coffee and cookies then take their seats as close as possible to the rear of the hall for a quick departure. The top corporate executives sit at a long table with their names emblazoned on placards in front of them, as if they were delegates from emerging countries attending the United Nations.
Directors occupy the front two rows. They wear identification badges so shareholders can corner them later and ask penetrating questions about the intricacies of corporate governance. However, the directors always seem to disappear as soon as they can without facing even the most modest scrutiny.
Near the podium sit the investment bankers who count on the company for their livelihood earned from stock issues and other offerings. They’re the ones who laugh heartily at the chief executive’s jokes. Once all participants are assembled, the chairman taps the microphone then blows into it to make sure it’s working and summons the meeting to order. 
The first agenda item is to introduce all those people who already have placards or name tags, as if no one among the assembled can read. Then begins a sad charade of corporate democracy as pre-arranged individuals pop up to propose or second motions that will be little noted nor long remembered. Votes on those various items have already been counted in advance by scrutineers. Autocrats, take note for new techniques.
Next, the chairman praises the chief executive officer who bashfully thanks him and then delivers a twenty-minute message as minds wander off all around the room. Just as name tags exist for those who wouldn’t otherwise be identifiable, some of the CEO’s finest phrases are flashed on a huge screen, apparently for the benefit of those who cannot hear.
At last comes the part of the meeting that causes some CEOs sleepless nights: the question and answer session. Once, in my brief corporate life as a PR man, I prepared a briefing book for a CEO. What’s the point? Rarely are there any tough questions from the floor.
Given all that buffoonery, I hereby propose all annual meetings be cancelled forthwith. Most companies already have quarterly conference calls with analysts, why not open up those sessions to include media and shareholders who want to attend via Zoom? Oh, and how about posting the boss’s briefing book online, the one that contains the answers to any and all possible questions? The contents would certainly be more interesting than any speech.



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