Gwen Stefani, free coffee and Warren Buffett Jell-O Molds: some shareholder meetings really buck the trend toward virtual.

Author:Hall, April
Position:THE STATE OF CORPORATE DEMOCRACY - Cover story
 
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Sure, there's talk about shareholder meetings going virtual, how they're expensive and don't accomplish much in governance anyway, but there are a couple of corporations that relish the annual meeting. With over-the-top entertainment and swag bags, these companies aren't expected to relegate their shareholders to a Skype sit-down any time soon.

Some over-the-top shareholders meetings can cost millions, which begs the question, "Are they worth the time and money?"

"Great management and great communicators are able to lead without the excessive spending," says R. Brent Lang, vice president at Strategic Analysis Corporation, an independent capital markets research firm.

But lavish meetings make sense for some companies.

"With a market cap of $409 billion, Berkshire Hathaway can afford to show their many disciples what current leading initiatives their holdings are pioneering and gaining market share," Lang says. "The followers attend to hear the sage wisdom of decades of proven, simple investing principles that are often lost in today's frenetic trading world."

Here are companies bucking the virtual-only trend and continuing to thank and excite shareholders with off-the-hook annual meetings.

Walmart

The latest and greatest shareholder meeting was conducted by Walmart. The extended events include visits to the Walmart museum and tours of company facilities, but it's the main event that packed a reported 14,000 associates and shareholders into the Bud Walton Arena, in Fayetteville, Ark.

The meeting itself was just three hours, but managed to squeeze in musical performances, including rock star Gwen Stefani, all hosted by her country music beau Blake Shelton.

By the way, you need to be on-site to see the celebrities, who appear for free, but all have strong merchandising deals with the company.

Other portions of the meeting included videos of the year's successes, future plans and highlights of employees. There were also presentations made by the C-suite of the company, which includes leaders of Walmart, Sam's Club, and their newest division, e-commerce.

In between management presentations, Stefani and Shelton were joined by Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo and Rachel Platten for about 45 minutes of high-energy, high-production performances, in addition to the National Anthem and a woman suspended from the ceiling in a long white dress while store associates sang.

During the two hours and 15 minutes of business, proposals were also brought to the floor...

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