Rules for Annual General Meetings

May has ushered in another season of Annual General Meeting (AGM) playoffs: where typically the corporate-side has to follow the rule-book, thus setting up the eco-activist and native sides to do their thing.  Already the 2013 season has been particularly rough on the resources sector: no less than three corporate executives walked-the-plank this month alone in the aftermath of AGMs – oil sands / mining / hydropower – the common theme being problems their projects were encountering with natives.

Of course the high water mark was last year’s Freedom Train’s arrival in Toronto with the accompanying anti-Northern Gateway march down King Street and then the rally outside the King Edward Meridian hotel (with the AGM underway inside). What was significant for me, was the array of all the other blue-chip strategists at the microphones: I could connect the dots as to who was supporting who (eco-activists / native leaders / ethical funds) in common cause against the pipeline giant. Ironically, the only thing the two sides had in common was the fact that they were both following pre-ordained scripts, sticking to sound bites, aimed at the media. One year later, here’s how the media set the stage for the 2013 AGM season:

“Imagine this corporate nightmare: activists dominating your annual shareholders’ meeting, sullying your brand over the Internet, discrediting you with politicians and agitating communities against you.”  (Claudia Cattaneo National Post May 10 2013)

Over in Norway, just last week, StatOil’s AGM likewise welcomed the return of eco-activists along with a native delegation. Tina Lameman of Beaver Lake Cree Nation spoke of that community’s recent legal win in the Alberta Court of Appeal (#180) and Elder Francois Paulette delivered a sophisticated play on words (“StopOil”). Their hard-hitting anti-oil sands expansion message appears at the AGM’s 50 MM.

But imagine their surprise when StatOil’s CEO read from the Chief’s letter that, to the contrary, StatOil was on the right track with the same Beaver Lake Cree Nation!

“Today we have received a letter from the Chief of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation saying: ‘I truly believe that StatOil is one of the select few companies that operate their activities, but in our traditional territories, that understands and respects our culture, our values, our way of life, and this is why it is in our best interests as a community to cooperate and to work hand in hand on development.’ ”

– (CEO Helge Lund at 1:45 MM – speaking Norwegian / simultaneous translation / letter from Chief Henry Gladue)

Notably, the CEO’s rebuttal was not delivered point blank, but rather in a manner that underscored the company’s overarching relationship priorities with all of the communities in and around the oilsands: “Having read that out I’m not saying that everything is good … (The reader is urged to review both clips for proper context). Nevertheless, here’s a company that knows how to maximize its AGM strategy.

So as another playoff season winds down, here are my rules for AGMers planning on making similar interventions in the future:

  1. Don’t rely on agendas and sound bites of allies – especially pre-scripted.
  2. The days of ‘tried and true’ and ‘it worked in the past’ are over.
  3. Make sure that you ‘own’ the platform that you’re speaking about.
  4. Recognize that many companies are now ‘walking the talk’.
  5. Consider using your legal wins to promote negotiations instead.

 

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