Walmart changes annual shareholder meeting format, sets earlier business meeting

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 8,319 views 

Walmart Inc. CEO Doug McMillon

Shareholders making proposals for change at the Walmart Inc. annual meeting will now do it in a smaller setting two days before the retailer’s shareholder celebration Friday, June 1, at the University of Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena.

The retail giant announced Wednesday (March 28) it will separate the formal business meeting from the main event on Friday. The business meeting is slated for 10 a.m., May 30 — a Wednesday — at John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers. Shareholders will cast their votes for the proposals by the May 30 meeting which, will be webcast for those who can’t attend.

Randy Hargrove, corporate spokesman for Walmart, said shareholders can vote their shares via phone or online if they can’t attend the Wednesday session. He said the move is part of Walmart’s ongoing evolution, noting meetings have changed several times over the years.

“We want to ensure all shareholders have a chance to vote their shares,” he said. “They can listen to the webcast of the event if they choose and can’t attend in person.”

He said the celebration on Friday also will be webcast and should flow smoother without the business segment to cover.  He said employees will hear from Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and other management leaders who will address business matters during the main event Friday, as shareholders and employees celebrate the year.

Walmart said there will be no entertainment at the formal business meeting on Wednesday which should last about an hour. The results will be read at the Friday meeting as a matter of record. The Friday meeting will include entertainment and highlight successes from the year. Afterward, a question and answer session between management and analysts will begin at 12:15 p.m. The company will make a full transcript from the Q&A available on its website on June 1.

Walmart said meeting formats have evolved since the first meeting in 1970. In the early years, there were annual picnics at Sam Walton’s family home after a formal business meeting. Later the celebratory picnics were moved to Blowing Springs in Bella Vista. The celebration and business meetings were combined and moved to Barnhill Arena on the UA campus in Fayetteville as the company grew, and then to the larger Bud Walton Arena in 1994.

Andy Wilson, a retired Walmart executive, said change is always in play at Walmart. He said it looks like Walmart is somewhat reverting back to the way earlier meetings were held.

“As long as associates and management can hear the business portion of the meeting and hear from Doug and the leadership teams via webcast, this move is probably fine,” Wilson said. “Sam always wanted to make sure store management was keeping up with the business part of the company. A concern of mine has always been the larger we get the harder it is to make sure store management and associates hear directly from corporate leadership.”

He said the new format is transparent and open as both meetings are webcast in real time and then archived for later viewing. Wilson said the Friday meeting could be more celebratory in nature without the long break for the business meeting.

Alan Ellstrand, associate dean at the UA and professor in corporate governance, said business meetings for shareholders are typically dry and legalistic events. Walmart has been one of the few exceptions. He said activist shareholders seeking change through the proposal process will still have a platform. He said the new schedule is more like the typical shareholder business meeting of most companies.

“Walmart turned this annual shareholder event into a really big show over the years and it creates interest across the region.,” Ellstrand said. “They use it as an incentive for employees, and its part of their culture. Perhaps management saw a way to celebrate the company on Friday without the required business meeting bogging down the mood.”