Since I'm not a shareholder, I didn't attend the BlackRock, Inc. Annual Meeting of Shareholders this morning, but I was lucky enough to receive a report from a shareholder who did and is also interested in how virtual annual meetings are being run this year.
Disclosure About the Virtual Meeting
BlackRock's virtual meeting took place at 8:00 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 21. The company had already decided to make the switch to virtual-only before they printed its Proxy Statement. The change was explained in the very first paragraph of BlackRock Chairman/CEO Larry Fink's letter to Shareholders on the third page of the Proxy Statement:
Thank you for your confidence in BlackRock, especially through these unprecedented times. First and foremost, on behalf of BlackRock and our Board of Directors, we hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe during this tragic pandemic. In consideration of health concerns relating to COVID-19, we are holding BlackRock’s 2020 Annual Meeting of Shareholders virtually. We welcome you to join on May 21, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EDT at www.virtualshareholdermeeting.com/BLK2020. You may vote your shares via the Internet and submit your questions during the meeting by visiting www.virtualshareholdermeeting.com/ BLK2020. As we do each year, we will address the voting items in this year’s Proxy Statement and take your questions. Regardless of whether you plan to join the meeting, your vote is important, and we encourage you to review the enclosed materials and submit your proxy.
More instructions on how to attend, vote, and participate, in Q&A format, were included towards the end of the Proxy Statement, very similar to other companies. They also posted some good instructions on their Investor Relations page in advance of the meeting.
That's a Good Question
I thought this particular Q&A in the instructions about the virtual meeting was a good one to call out:
Will I be able to participate in the virtual Annual Meeting in the same way that I would be able to participate in an in-person annual meeting?
We have taken steps to ensure that the format of the virtual Annual Meeting affords shareholders the same rights and opportunities to participate as they would at an in-person meeting. We have also determined to enhance shareholder access, participation and communication by providing shareholders the ability to submit questions in advance of the meeting.
You may submit a question in advance of the meeting at www.proxyvote.com after logging in with your control number found on your proxy card, voting instruction form or Notice of Internet Availability of Proxy Materials. Questions may also be submitted during the Annual Meeting through www.virtualshareholdermeeting.com/BLK2020. Questions will be limited to one per shareholder.
Notes From An Interested Shareholder
Here's what the BlackRock shareholder who attended the meeting generously shared with me and allowed me to share with you:
For those of us watching and evaluating the process for virtual AGMs let me make a few comments about the BlackRock AGM this morning.
This is solely a few comments on the process for the meeting since we are evaluating subpar virtual meetings as well as superior virtual processes. No comment on the actual content or adequacy of the responses.
Of course there are multiple indicators we could use to evaluate but here are a few:
Easy to sign in using Broadridge and our contact number.
Meeting went over 1 1/2 hours. Many companies rush to get them done in 30 or 45 minutes.
Answers to questions were answered respectfully and at length by Larry Fink, Directors or staff.
Andy Behar was given a phone line to move [As You Sow's] resolution (many companies have not offered phone access).
His statement was responded to in detail acknowledging the validity of some of his arguments then adding detail from the company perspective (many companies don’t make any response except to say the answer is in the proxy).
Susan Makos of Mercy Investment Services, the lead sponsor without company of a resolution that was withdrawn on proxy voting on climate presented a statement that was read by the Corporate Secretary.
Questions were gathered before the meeting and via the chat box and answered by different people with experience on the issue. But Larry Fink often answered their questions himself.
The questions did not seem to be censored and included questions from the Sierra Club, Amazon Watch and other critics but one could not know if there were other questions they decided not to answer.
Both Larry Fink and other speakers including staff and a director spoke at great length on ESG investing, their products, commitment to engagement, importance of Sustainability for companies they invest in and defended their voting re it’d saying in the first quarter they voted against 500 directors and against management 30% of the time (did NOT say how many resolutions they supported).
Larry Fink started several times that they would return to an in person meeting next year.
In summary in comparison to a number of virtual meetings this spring this stands out as well run with an investor friendly process.
Thanks very much to the shareholder who sent me these notes! If you are also taking notes at any virtual annual meetings this season and want to submit them for me to post (with or without attribution), feel free to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.