One childhood Christmas, my parents gifted me with Disney shares – enough to likely warrant me owning half a blade of grass at a resort. Though I might not quite have a controlling interest in the company, I do have dividend cheques, a fancy shareholder certificate, and an annual invite to their Annual Meeting of Shareholders. On Wednesday, I finally made use of the last item on this list.
The Walt Disney Corporation Annual Shareholder Meeting takes place in a different US city each March. This year, it called The Hobby Centre in Houston, Texas home to bring attention to the role local ABC newscaster, KTRK, had in helping to coordinate Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
As I entered the venue, my cell phone was placed into a signal blocking pouch and I walked through a metal detector. “Enjoy the show,” a friendly cast member smiled at me as I entered the waiting area, and I couldn’t help but wonder if any other company would outwardly refer to their AGM (Annual General Meeting) this way. However, as I soon realized, that was exactly the right terminology to use for this event.
While the crowd waited for the auditorium doors to open at 10am, a number of familiar faces helped keep us occupied: Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, a pair of overserious Storm Troopers who didn’t realize they were off the clock, the king of Wakanda himself – Black Panther, and of course, Mickey Mouse. There’s just something so magical about seeing a line of grownups – some even fully suited up – giggle and grin as they wait for an audience with Mickey Mouse.
A D23 booth advertised Disney’s premiere fan club, and a Disney VoluntEARS table encouraged attendees to write a note that would be affixed onto a plush Mickey’s ear and delivered to the Houston Children’s Hospital the next day. Signature Disney soundtrack tunes filled the air as the varied crowd – young, old, black tie, and Disneybounding, waited excitedly.
Senior Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Alan Braverman, took the stage to conduct the “business side” of the meeting first. A variety of motions were put forward, the majority of which were voted through, save for a request to increase executive compensation, and two shareholder proposals regarding proxy voting access and lobbying disclosure.
With the serious stuff completed, CEO Bob Iger gave insight into the company’s 2018 plans, including further digital integration – as enabled by their acquisition of BAMTech, finalizing the 21st Fox acquisition that was announced late last year, and new expansions to their existing theme parks. In addition, he offered the crowd an extended sneak peek into the four massive movies the company has slated for release this year – Avengers Infinity War, The Incredibles 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Mary Poppins Returns. With the addition of February’s Black Panther, which has already surpassed the $1B box office mark, it looks like this year will be a good year for Disney movies.
Iger also went into detail regarding the education and training programs Disney has in place to help support its cast members, which were in turn lauded by a suspiciously sizable number of cast members who thanked Iger and the company during the Q&A session. This was in contrast to a group of workers from the Disneyland Resort, who protested outside The Hobby Centre, demanding that the company provide a “living wage”. Iger remarked how he seemed to be getting more compliments than questions during the Q&A period, to which an angry audience member accused him of setting it up that way.
Other questions during the Q&A session included inquiries into Iger’s personal routine and the status of his autobiography (due 2019), a child who inquired as to what updates would be made in the parks (even though this was previously addressed in his presentation), and a hypothetical ‘would you rather’ from a a 13 year old who has thus far attended an impressive 11 AGM meetings. While many of the questions were passionate, articulate, or just downright cute, they did little to address practical business operations.
As Iger ended the Q&A session and abruptly brought the Annual Shareholder Meeting to a close, the room was filled with the chatter of riled would-be question askers. Though we were told the meeting would last 2 hours, it seemed that it had been cut almost 40 minutes short.
As I exited the theatre, souvenir “Annual Meeting of Shareholders 2018” pin and tote bag in hand, a protestor approached me and explained the cause of his discontent. Disney, for all of its magic and smile inducing properties, is at the end of the day a corporation, and each business understandably has its own share of stakeholders to juggle and problems to deal with. The Disney AGM was different than most in that a large number of attendees, admittedly myself included, were there to bask in the magic, not to ensure a profitable return on investment. We were there for “the show”.
For as long as I’ve been aware what an “Annual Shareholder Meeting” was, I’ve wanted to attend Disney’s. While it might not have been what I had expected, it was definitely magical in its own way.