Meeting Safely, Legally

With schools, sporting events, and many businesses shut down in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus with “social distancing,” many companies are scaling back or entirely eliminating in-person shareholder events and transitioning to virtual meetings instead. Most public companies have historically held in-person meetings, providing an opportunity for shareholders to make sure management can hear their concerns. But this year, several high-profile companies have already announced entirely virtual meetings, and many others have said they’re considering doing the same. As of publication, meeting announcements from corporations and proxy advisers — in addition to government orders of interaction to stem the spread of the virus — were changing by the hour. Starbucks, which typically draws thousands to its annual meeting in Seattle, one of the first U.S. cities hard hit by COVID-19, moved its March 18 meeting online. Amazon announced it will conduct its May meeting the same way, and even Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Omaha — known by fans as “Woodstock for Capitalists”— will be a virtual gathering this year on May 2. In a letter to shareholders, CEO Warren Buffett wrote that he regretted the move, because he considered the meeting a high point of the year. “It is now clear, however, that large gatherings can pose a health threat to the participants and the greater community,” Buffett wrote. “We won’t ask this of our employees, and we won’t expose Omaha...

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