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Friday, November 28, 2014

Shareholder Value - taken to a new level

What do you think when you hear the term "shareholder value"?



Admit it, you think "not another round of BS Bingo!"


Don't worry, I feel the same way. I won't bore you with a management / finance post. I couldn't, even if I tried, haha!

I am not your typical shareholder. Actually the only stocks I own were part of my salary in a job back before y2k. They are doing well. I think. At least they cover the accruing custody account charges. I just realized that I have never been invited to their annual general assembly.

My only annual meeting experiences - apart from the ones that were part of my jobs - go back to when I was on the charity board. One was quite memorable. A disgruntled lady who notabene didn't RSVP showed up and requested that a topic that wasn't on the agenda be discussed. It got ugly as in bitchy / emotional.

I didn't even think of that when I was on my way to this extraordinary assembly of company "K" of which our office holds a small amount of shares. K's business idea is basically for small companies to combine forces, do business among one another and benefit from discounts within famework agreements.

In order to so do, you have to hold K shares. So far so good.

The chairman of this company - "H" is an illustrious character to say the least. Smooth, approachable, as neat as a pin - and obscure.

We take care of his company's network and business software, so I talk to him on the phone every now and then. Usually I just tell him to hit control z = undo, or to hit the num lock key, and his problems are solved, and he tells me enthusiastically about his latest ideas on how to generate new business channels. I admire his courage and energy, but the longer I know him, the less I actually believe he'll ever realize his projects.  

He has the gift of winning people over and convincing them to join him - and invest money in him / his company. I think he does it by having a good sense of what the other person wants to hear in terms of "what's in for me?" Not only financially, also in terms of using his people network, benefit from recommendations, even on a personal development level.

I remember when I participated in the first regional meeting. He wasn't even our client yet, so he knew nothing about how we work, much less my own very limited techincal skills, but he introduced me as his personal longstanding, competent and charming IT Manager. That sounds alarm bells, right. What a sweet talker. When he wanted to start the meeting, he couldn't connect to the conventions center's Wi-Fi, and of course, he and everybody else were looking at me. Right. When I wanted to reboot his notebook, a window popped up, informing me that the computer was now going to install update no. 96 of 96, and please don't interrupt...



Moving on...

The meeting took place at this charming old castle

He called this extraordinary assembly for three major reasons:

  • How to fix the reputation damage suffered by a really ugly newspaper article that got published about six months ago
  • Have us shareholders elect two new board members
  • Present yet another new company branch, and therefore look for additional investors

Back then I had read the article that was titled "shady entrepreneur deceived everybody" and thought to myself that even if it was brutally destructive, some of the statements may actually be close to the truth:

  • Disguised streams of cash
  • Bogus number of members to fake a large business volume
  • Advertizing with a Dun & Bradstreet rating certificat that is based on withholding facts
  • Worthlessness of shares
  • Constant coming and going of board members 
and many more accusations were numerated. The most exotic, yet irrelevant for our cause, was the allegation that H is in the process of suing his former brothers in faith (for a lack of a better word let's call them that way) at Jehova's witnesses for defamation. Apparently they outcasted him for faking the balance sheet of real estate. 

In the meantime we have come to know a rather poor payment practice, inconsistencies in his statements and unkept promises ourselves.

To keep the long story short here are a couple of highlights of that session:

Less than five minutes into the meeting, two gentlemen in the row behind me began to attack H. One - "R" - claimed he didn't get an Invitation, and that this happened on purpose. How did he get here then? The other - "N" claimed that he is being oppressed by the way H treats him - just like back then in his country (his name sounds like he escaped the Prague Spring.)

The two new board member candidates introduced themselves and seemed to be either overly eager to get a mandate on the board of directors - never mind the board -, brainwashed or plain naive. Maybe all of the above. They got elected for a three year period, but it was clear that nobody believed to see them again come next year.

Polls were being processed in real time - aka slow, this is when I started reading my advanced review copy of


Who stole my spandex and kept chuckling - turned out to yield pretty distinct results. There were only 30 shareholders present. Turned out, Mr Chairman H, who holds the majority of the shares, was voting, too. WTH, right?

Shareholder "D" as in "don't remember his name" got up and asked H to finally resign as chairman as H has been incompetent and overwhelmed for a long time anyway. Obviously he had asked for it at the last yearly assembly already.

It turned out that four of the shareholders present this evening are responsible for that newspaper article, and it wasn't even an accident like when you mention something, and the journalist twists your words and has a field day. No, shareholder "R" deliberately approached the press. "In order to prevent future investors from being ripped off" as he claims. Never mind that we all suffer from reputation damage.

As a result, chairman H sued the newspaper and kept talking about the four wirepullers of this slanderous article. 

As a result, shareholder "HM" got up and cried: "H!!! You take that back immediately! You won't call me a wirepuller on this, or else I'll sue you! Never in my life have I pulled any wire of whatsoever! All I did was answering the journalist's questions."

H: "I won't take back anything."

HM: "Fine!! You asked for it. First thing tomorrow I'll file a complaint with the police!"

On and on it went. In Switzerland we don't have a Jerry Springer show on TV. But we sure as hell have a shareholder meeting of company K. The price you pay? Stocks of which you have no idea how much they are worth - probably not the paper they are printed on - oh, and as a bonus, the auditioning firm is being accused of either being blind or deceptive, too. 

 

Then the official part was over, and we were asked to dinner. It was 8pm, and I was starving. Also we were joking that this food was the most valuable equity we would ever get out of our shares.

Surely the four troublemakers would now make like a tree an leave, my neighbor and new buddy in crime said. "Want to bet they'll not only stay for dinner but drink the most wine?" I replied. Sure enough they took a seat, and it didn't take long and their noses turned red.

I was among the first ones to go home. Left right after dessert which was a piece of quite yummy lemon cake.

I am still troubled by this experience. Not the cake - what went down at the meeting.

Where have we come in this world? Greed, deliberate actions to cause harm, personal attacks, desire for revenge.

I think I'll bring forward the motion to hold the next meeting at the bouncy house. We can remove our shoes, jump up and down and even use the slide. Then we all go out for ice cream! That'll work, right?



PS: Speaking of happy times... take a minute to check out that book I was talking about earlier. After all it's Black Friday, and it'll make you smile! This from the Swiss blogger who is actually sitting at the office ;-)