The results are in. At this point on the calendar, most public companies have held their annual meetings. Shareholders have cast their ballots on a wealth of contentious proposals. Now, votes tallied, we can separate the proposals that will remain shareholder daydreams from those with real impact.
The mood among shareholders feels restive—like the mood in the country at large—but that does not always translate to action. At the McDonald’s annual meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois, hundreds of protesters gathered outside to push for $15/hour wages; inside though, it was business as usual. Shareholder proposals to phase out antibiotics, to eliminate polystyrene cups, to increase transparency in charitable donations and to lower the threshold for calling special shareholder meetings all failed.
But in other cases, shareholder proposals either passed or led to major changes in other ways. Here’s how six big votes shook out:
Amazon adopts the Rooney Rule: At first, Amazon balked at a shareholder proposal urging it to adopt a corporate version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. The proposal, aimed at increasing the diversity of Amazon’s all-white board, asked the company to consider women and minority candidates for any open seat on its board of directors. Amazon’s hesitation was unconvincing (it claimed it had “complex processes” in place for board candidate selection) and sparked outrage among shareholders. The Congressional Black Caucus got interested too—according to the rumor mill, the CBC was ready to fire off a letter on the subject to Jeff Bezos. Faster than a delivery from Amazon Prime, the company pivoted and agreed to adopt the proposal.
Apple shareholders fall in line behind Tim Cook: Things are looking good for Apple’s leadership right now. The company is coming off its “best quarter ever,” during which it racked up $88 billion in sales. Such results can get you a long leash in business. Indeed, in what commentators interpret as a massive vote of confidence for CEO Tim Cook, shareholders voted overwhelmingly for four management-backed proposals (including one on executive compensation), and soundly rejected two shareholder proposals. One of those, which called for the creation of a “human rights committee,” won a paltry five percent of the vote
Elaine Wynn gets results: Elaine Wynn is the biggest shareholder in Wynn Resorts and the ex-wife of disgraced founder Steve Wynn, who resigned after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. She led a campaign asking shareholders to “withhold the vote” for incumbent director John Hagenbuch, a close friend of her former husband, in order to make a statement on the entire board of directors’ failure to adequately investigate and manage risks to the company created by Steve Wynn. Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholders Services both backed her campaign, and seeing the writing on the wall, Hagenbuch stepped down before the meeting.
Shareholders went even further and rejected the company’s executive compensation plan, with 80 percent of shareholder votes coming in against it. Although the vote was non-binding, the company said it would “act on the result.”
Executive comp defeat at Disney: With Disney workers outside protesting for a “living wage,” shareholders voted on the executive compensation package for CEO Robert Iger, who took home $36.3 million last year and could make a lot more in 2018. They rejected it by a 52 percent to 44 percent margin (four percent abstained). It was a non-binding vote, but the Disney board said it will take the matter “under advisement for future CEO compensation.”
Nuns win vote among gunmaker shareholders: In a major victory for faith-based investor groups, which have been pushing for change in the gun industry, a proposal backed by a group of nuns carried the day at Sturm Ruger. The proposal requires the company to create a report on the financial and reputational risks associated with its business. BlackRock voted its 2.8 million shares in favor of the proposal.
Elon Musk holds onto chairman role: Elon Musk responded emotionally after a shareholder vote allowed him to retain the title of chairman of the board, in addition to his role as chief executive. Perhaps the stress of the vote explains some of the feuding. Regardless, the potentially disruptive proposal to split the chairman and CEO roles was put forward by a shareholder with just 12 shares of Tesla stock.