I attended 2020 Annual Shareholders Meeting of Microsoft Corporation on December 2. I’m not going to walk step-by-step through the entire event since everything was in line with other meetings I wrote about earlier in the year, and you can now read a detailed discussion of VSM practices in the recently-published Report of the 2020 Multi-Stakeholder Working Group on Practices for Virtual Shareholder Meetings, an effort co-chaired by my good friends Amy Borrus of CII and Darla Stuckey of the Society for Corporate Governance. I was lucky enough to serve as the Working Group’s facilitator with support from Ann Lee, a student in the JD program at Rutgers Law School. Plus, Microsoft posted its own summary of the meeting, saving me the task of doing that!
Microsoft incorporated many of the practices that all companies should aspire to, including soliciting questions in advance, giving shareholders a few extra minutes to vote or change their votes after the items of business were presented before closing the polls, announcing the voting results right after the polls closed, and posting the voting results, Q&A, replay, and transcript after the meeting.
Microsoft’s meeting (audio-video) was held on the Broadridge platform for verified shareholders and guests to attend. Microsoft also streamed a simultaneous webcast over Microsoft Teams that could be accessed via the company’s Investor Relations page. (It actually wasn’t that easy to find the page that had the link to the Teams feed, so that’s something they can improve on next year.) In total (Broadridge plus Teams), over 900 people tuned into Microsoft annual meeting this year.
The advantages of watching via Teams were being able to (1) go back (what I still call “rewind”) to watch from points earlier in the meeting, and (2) choose closed captioning in Chinese, English, German, Hindi, or Spanish.
Microsoft’s VSM experience was similar to what we get watching TV news programs. They went beyond what most other companies did by having multiple directors and executives speak on camera, including the independent chair, CEO, CFO, president, corporate secretary and chief investor relations officer. Some of them even appeared on the screen at the same time at certain points of the meeting. Different people fielded different questions during the Q&A session, which is something shareholders have asked to see more of. And each of their video feeds was coming in from a different location, showing that this can be done in you can dedicate sufficient resources to the technology, which obviously Microsoft can. This is not something that all companies can reasonably afford to do right now, but the technology will get better and cheaper as technology always does.
Now, let see a few screen shots, so you can get a sense of the look and feel of Microsoft’s 2020 VSM:
The first shot shows the CEO speaking via the Broadridge VSM platform that we’ve all become familiar with.
Next, we get a look at the Annual Meeting section of the Investor Relations page with the link to join the meeting via Teams.
Here we see four different presenters appearing live at the same time on a split screen, all from different living rooms or studies. (Note to self: Brad Smith is really into reading history books and biographies.) This was right before the Q&A session started.
Finally, we see closed captions at the bottom of the screen in the five different languages while the corporate secretary is speaking.
Kudos to Microsoft for leveraging technology and putting the work in to produce a superb VSM. This may be what more annual meetings will look like in the near future.
If you have a chance, also check out Microsoft’s ESG & Director Video Series for another example of how the company is incorporating video to communicate with investors.