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Columns

Pop some popcorn for corporate showtime

By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published May 28, 2007


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The Memorial Day weekend conjures up not only patriotic moments but an endless summer promise of movie sequels like Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third.

For investors, this is no less a season of comic relief and global drama, courtesy of annual shareholder meetings.

It's tough to top the recent soap opera of Paul Wolfowitz's tenure as president of the World Bank, which mercifully ended this month in an orchestrated exit. But strap on your proxy statements and let's tour some of the season's best corporate scenes to remember:

Most "embarrassing" moment: At the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, when Progress Energy investor Richard Reina of Tampa asked CEO Bob McGehee why company executives - so richly compensated - should get their cars washed for free as an added perk. Asked Reina: Doesn't that embarrass you? McGehee, who earned more than $8-million last year and an $18, 600 auto allowance, told Reina "I get a little embarrassed" when such perks get reported in newspapers. Just not embarrassed enough to end the privilege.

Most succinct comparison: Kudos to Mel Karmazin, Sirius Satellite Radio CEO, at last week's meeting when he said he was just as disappointed as other investors in Sirius' weak stock price. Compared to rival XM, however, he said: "We suck less."

Most wishful-thinking remark: Cheers to new Home Depot CEO Frank Blake, who spent most of his time last week apologizing to shareholders for ousted CEO Robert Nardelli's "Let them eat cake" behavior at the 2006 meeting. Said Blake: "We're seeing a kind of societal shift around what shareholders are willing to pay their CEOs." Societal shift? Maybe. Board of directors shift? Laughable.

Most likely to take heat on pay meeting: It happens Tuesday when UnitedHealth Group shareholders consider proposals to tie executive pay more closely to corporate performance and curb special retirement benefits for executives. This is the same company whose former CEO, William McGuire, resigned after the company acknowledged backdating stock options to enrich executives.

Most "mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore" shareholders: Never would have happened a few years ago, but most shareholders of Verizon where CEO Ivan Seidenberg received $20-million last year and Blockbuster voted in favor of resolutions giving company investors a "say on pay" of executives. It's not binding but it's a strong message to the boards: Overpay execs at your peril. Two dozen companies faced similar resolutions.

Most likely to remember three letters - PVC: Retailing giant Target did its best last week to remind shareholders that its performance was better than larger rival Wal-Mart. If it just wasn't for two dozen pesky protesters in haz-mat suits upset Target still sells products made with PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, a plastic some consider harmful.

Most motivated to wave bye-bye: Protesters gathered outside this month's Halliburton meeting to throw a party for the company as it moves its CEO to Dubai from Houston.

Try and beat these performances at the movies. Good luck.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

[Last modified May 25, 2007, 21:59:36]


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