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AGMs can be interesting and innovative, just look at CSR

By Allan Goldin, ASA NSW Company Monitoring Chairman
 

If you are tired of a bored Chairman regurgitating the Annual Report, closing the AGM and herding out the shareholders, then you should have been at CSR’s AGM to see real innovation in front of your eyes.

First, the meeting was held in the Concourse in Chatswood NSW, which would have set the company back a fraction of the cost of an expensive hotel meeting room in the Sydney CBD. Whilst Chatswood is in the suburbs, it is only a short hop from the city on a major train line with an abundance of free 3 hour parking spots across the road and is starting to attract shareholders in numbers that some of the bigger companies would love to reach.

When you get into the meeting room, the first thing you notice is instead of just the one table at the front with all the directors, there is a second table with five gentlemen sitting behind it. These tables are only slightly raised so the directors haven’t perched themselves like gods looking down on the masses. Then Chairman Jeremy Sutcliffe comes out in front of the lectern and in his always pleasant conversational style explains that the purpose of today’s meeting is to allow the shareholders to meet the executives and to talk to them and the directors during the break.

The Chairman introduced the executives on the stage, before moving on to the directors. When he reached Ms Rebecca McGrath, he suggested that as she was up for re-election, she might like to say a few words to the meeting. The next director Mr Michael Ihlein, who was up for re-election, was similarly offered an opportunity to address the meeting. The Chairman then spoke about his own re-election. This all happened before the traditional Chairman’s address.

During his formal address, the Chairman made a few points about what happened last year and passed the microphone to Managing Director Rob Sindel. Although Mr Sindel’s address was in the usual format, the excellent graphics on the two big screens in the room and explanations about sections of the business intercut with the marketing video and allowed shareholders to hear from a CEO with a passion for the business he is running.

Following this, the Chairman returned and introduced the executives – this time via a video where each of them spoke about their personal experience and journey through the company, about the divisions that they ran and the future. Back to Chairman Sutcliffe – the meeting has now been running for just under an hour and a half – he tells the shareholders that all the formal resolutions are by poll which he now declares open and on the screens, the proxy votes on all resolutions are displayed. They will stay there until the end of the meeting, but the meeting will break for half an hour for some snacks and a chance for the shareholders to talk to the executives and directors.

So we didn’t not have to wait for the end of the meeting for a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but instead were fed very good finger food, with more than was required for the good turnout, while at the same time, the directors and executives went around and talked to individual shareholders.

We then went back into the AGM. A few, but only very few, didn’t return and you must wonder if that was because they didn’t know that they were going to be taking part in such an different meeting and had only allocated 2 hours which was now up. The Chairman said the floor was now open for questions and they can be on any resolution or multiple resolutions – everyone was encouraged to ask as many questions as they wanted but to limit questions to two at a time.

Unfortunately, this was the low point of the meeting not because of CSR, but because we witnessed the same people asking the same questions, including ASA and myself.

CSR should receive nothing but praise and encouragement for creating an innovative, interactive, free-flowing, informative and very interesting AGM. Let us hope next year we will not only see more questions from a greater variety of shareholders, but other companies also starting to think outside the box.

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