Following Marks & Spencer’s fourth digital annual general meeting (AGM) on July 4 – criticized by some shareholders for not being held in person – the major retailer’s general counsel and company secretary Nick Folland shares exclusive data on how the once lavish format event boosted investor participation.
We want M&S to host the largest and most engaging AGM in the country. A meeting accessible to shareholders, regardless of their place of residence or the place where they hold their M&S shares [based on the share-buying and selling platform they use]. We are exploring how events work best and as we explore what next year’s AGM might look like, we saw continued positive shareholder engagement at our fourth digital AGM [on 4 July 2023].
We continued to attract three times as many shareholders as at our last physical meeting [in 2019]and the number of questions submitted increased by 35% compared to last year [when 95 questions were asked].
This year, we had the pleasure of welcoming in the room the shareholders present in person [at the M&S Waterside House Support Centre in Paddington, central London] and answered our first two shareholder questions which, as part of our Share your voice campaign [launched in April 2023, calling for digital AGMs to be officially recognised by the government as legitimate AGM meetings]contacted us via the UK’s second largest investment platform for private investors, Interactive Investor, with whom we recently partnered to launch a first-of-its-kind pilot project linking M&S directly to thousands of shareholders nominated, for the first time.
Our AGMs have never been so popular, shareholders across the country and around the world can now get involved. Since taking digital meeting a few years ago [in 2020]the number of committed shareholders has almost tripled [from 593 attending the last physical meeting in 2019 to 1,687 engaging in 2022] and our shareholders are asking more questions – from 28 in 2019 to 129 yesterday.
All of this contributes to a much more democratic, accessible and engaging meeting. [than solely in-person events].
We are not against hybrid general meetings and we certainly do not want to make it difficult for our shareholders to engage with M&S; far from there. M&S has more private shareholder engagement than almost any other company, we have probably the biggest annual general meeting in the UK and we meet private investors throughout the year, including through our regular shareholder panels.
Our Share Your Voice campaign in no way calls for digital-only AGMs to be the only recognized method of hosting an AGM. In our letter to the Business Secretary [Kemi Badenoch, published on 1 April 2023]we have pointed out that under current law, a digital general meeting does not constitute a legitimate meeting.
Our reform proposal was simply to recognize the validity of digital general meetings, so that new technologies could be used as a tool to increase engagement and transparency without risking the validity of the meeting being questioned.
We have been very clear in our campaign letter that this proposal should not invalidate other forms of meeting, including physical and hybrid, and that companies should be given the opportunity to choose the format that suits the size, shape and geography of its shareholding.
We are also campaigning to change the Companies Act so that nominee shareholders, who represent 40% of the market and are invested through the growing number of trading platforms, have the same rights as any other shareholder to engage and vote. in the business. AGM.
We care passionately about shareholder democracy and want as many shareholders as possible to be involved in our general meeting, no matter where they live or where they hold their M&S shares.