A few months ago, we got an email notice about a proxy vote (shareholders can vote their shares at a company’s annual meeting by proxy) for one of our legacy holdings: AT&T. This very old company has had more trials and troubles than the Perils of Pauline.
In fact, the company formerly known by its friends as Ma Bell, has been through many iterations, many of them caused by the U.S. government, which many years ago decided the company was monopoly and required it to be broken up.
IFO can hardly imagine the grief and heart-ache suffered by the employees as the company was forced to spin off many of its tech development departments and divide its basic phone services into many different companies.
After the anti-monopoly fever died down, the remaining management assembled many of the bits and pieces of the butchered company, put it back together again and regained its original initials – AT&T, which stood for American Telephone and Telegraphy Company.
Due to all the fussing around, Yahoo! says, in the company profile, that it was founded in 1983. Actually, the company was established by Alexander Graham Bell in 1885. It couldn’t have been many years later that DDH’s grandfather bought shares in the company… and never sold. By the time DDH and his siblings were old enough to inherit, each one, plus their cousins, got a hefty chunk of the stock.
So, you can see, dear reader, how IFO could be reluctant to sell any of her inherited shares. After all, she needs to pass them on to her own children. HOWEVER, the company hasn’t been very healthy these days. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the powers-who-are, who decide what companies should be listed in the 30 Dow Industrial Index, where AT&T had resided for decades, removed it from the list.
So, she’s thinking of selling some of her shares. The proxy email, in addition to providing a way to vote online, also offered online .pdf files of the company’s proxy materials – annual report, news about the coming annual meeting. Turns out the annual meeting was scheduled to be held in Spokane, WA, just a few air hours away.
We’ve always advised investors to get to know their companies and suggested attending any annual meetings which are nearby. So, we acted on our own advice. It was very interesting. There was a fabulous display of the company’s new retail store interiors and products, a prize drawing, presents for all attendees, most of whom were retired phone company employees and current employees, and a fabulous breakfast/brunch buffet.
The giveaway product was a battery for charging cell phones. You hook it up to your computer to charge it, then plug it in to your phone to charge you cell phone battery. We’re already used it and love it.
This meeting was quite plain vanilla. There were some dissenting shareholders who had measures on the ballot and they were invited to present their case at the meeting. Which they did. Then, nearly everyone voted for whatever the management had asked. Members of the board of directors were elected, and shareholders approved the company’s auditor.
However, I learned a lot (company not going anywhere in particular, employees wonderful and enthusiastic, management and board somewhat robotic) and met a very interesting person who told me I could probably deduct the expense of attending the meeting as “investment management expense.” Yay!
Tomorrow, we’ll tell you about an annual meeting we would rather have attended. Fireworks! Excitement! Tension! Battle for control! Personally, we think that annual meeting should be turned into a movie. Can you guess the company?
In the meantime, just know that business can be far more exciting and with far more at stake than any sports event you can think of.