Notes from the annual stockholders meetings
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2019 - 12:00am

The wild rumpus has started; the curtains have been raised. The circus is in town again. Come one, come all.

Welcome to the season of annual stockholders’ meetings (ASMs). These much-awaited gatherings are almost always circus-like. There are clowns and jugglers that will make you laugh and magicians who will trick your mind. 

Every year, true enough, there are always stories to tell about these ASMs. This season is no exception. 

Here’s a glimpse of my reporters’ notebook after covering quite a number of ASMs the past days:

The shortest ASM award goes to...

Enrique K. Razon, of course. He finished the ASM of ICTSI in 14 minutes. 

The jet-setting ports tycoon knows the value of time so well that no other ASM happens so fast and starts exactly right on the dot as that of a Razon-led company. As soon as the clock strikes, he grabs the mic and opens the meeting. This isn’t surprising because EKR is the most punctual tycoon I know, bar none.  In fact, if you arrive a second later and he happens to be delivering the chairman’s report already, you won’t be able to enter the glittering ballroom of Solaire Resorts until after the end of his message.

Rarely do shareholders ask questions. They are either too intimidated or can’t think of anything to ask before he finishes his closing remarks in his trademark husky but booming voice:

“Any questions?!...There being none I will now entertain a motion to adjourn...”

And there it goes, the meeting is adjourned. He will look at his watch and in the post-ASM huddle with journalists, he will note with pride, “that’s a new record!”

Journalists arriving late need not hurry. It will be futile to make a sprint for the media chat because if you’re late, you won’t get anything from him except some ribbing.

“You’re late. No more questions!” he tells latecomers. This, and a mischievous grin. He then dashes out the door and is off to a waiting chopper for his ride back to his office in Tondo.

And the longest ASM award goes to...

If EKR holds the record of conducting the shortest ASM, Ayala Corp. chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala gets the award for holding the longest ASM so far this year. 

The meeting ran for more than two hours and that’s because JAZA and brother Fernando were very patient in entertaining questions from every Tom, Dick, and Harry. 

When I asked JAZA about this, he said it’s really because the ASMs are the only chance for shareholders to ask questions. 

One asked about Ayala’s future, another appealed to be given a store space in an Ayala mall.

Senior citizens appealed for more tender, loving care such as the possibility of Ayala coming out with a health insurance for them, the Young Once.

Hearing from a fellow senior made JAZA excited, replying that he, too just turned 60 this year and is a proud member of the senior citizens’ club. He then passed on the mic to AC Health’s Paolo Borromeo who explained that while there are many initiatives for seniors, Ayala, unfortunately, has no health insurance for the 60 and above.

There were more questions and more answers until it was almost noon.  

Alas, when JAZA said he was ready to entertain a motion to adjourn, the guy assigned to move for adjournment did so with bated breath in an almost exasperated fashion, drawing laughter from the sympathetic crowd.

An earth shaking ASM

For the Aboitiz Group, it was literally an earth-shaking event. 

At the tail-end of the April 22 ASM held at the New World Hotel, shimmering chandeliers shook and rattled as a 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the country. 

Shareholders were told to duck, cover and hold. The whole company board and management also calmly did just that.

Earthquake takes limelight too at SM

And because the earthquake damaged some of the country’s skyscrapers, Monday’s seismic occurrence also took the limelight at the ASM of SM Prime, the property giant of the Sy family, which was held the following day.

Hans Sy, who spearheads SM’s sustainability efforts, gamely answered questions on earthquakes, saying that all of SM’s malls and condo towers had no structural damage. This, he proudly noted, is a testament to SM’s sustainability initiatives. 

Hans, erstwhile president and CEO of SM Prime, seems to have found a new calling with his sustainability work. Ask him about the topic and he will gamely talk to you about it.

More to come

The ASM season isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s only just begun. Crazy and circus-like as these meetings are, it is always a chance for shareholders to get to know the companies they invest in. 

Shareholders, however, should go beyond the fanfare. The more important stuff that can really affect one’s investments are sometimes buried in cryptic regulatory filings  and may not be found in the ASMs. 

But watching the circus can be a lot of fun, of course. And for just one share, shareholders can even have selfies with the star CEOs, or if not, they can at least bring home some swag. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

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