CUPERTINO, Calif.--Apple's first annual shareholder meeting in more than 10 years without founder and CEO Steve Jobs was largely uneventful, as COO Tim Cook and board members stepped in to handle questions regarding Apple's disclosure of Jobs' health.
Five shareholder proposals were considered, and only the one approving the re-election of Apple's eight existing board members was approved in preliminary voting. As in past years, the informal question-and-answer section was by far more interesting, although without Jobs' usual acerbic replies to institutional shareholders on soapboxes, a little duller.
For the record, Apple shareholders rejected proposals that the company adopt a so-called "say on pay" resolution, publicly commit to tough sustainability goals, adopt resolutions calling for health care reform, and publish a detailed list of its political contributions. The results are only preliminary, but are expected to stand following the tabulation of those votes submitted in person Wednesday.
Some of the more interesting highlights from the meeting:
The first question posed to Cook and the six Apple directors present (Jobs and Google CEO Eric Schmidt were the no-shows) concerned Jobs' health, and Apple's role in disclosing the status of his health in January. Apple first said in early January that Jobs was suffering from a hormonal imbalance but that recovery was considered relatively straightforward, only to turn around the following week and admit that Jobs' health problems had grown "more complex" and would require a six-month leave of absence from the company.
Brandon Rees, representing the AFL-CIO, asked that oft-repeated question "What did the company know and when did it know it?" regarding the state of Jobs' health, and also called on the board to disclose Apple's succession plan.
Art Levinson, co-lead director and chairman and CEO of Genentech, fielded the questions regarding Jobs' health. He said that the company believes it has satisfied all the legal requirements regarding the disclosure of material information, and that the board has discussed succession at Apple for years.
Levinson declined, however, to make any succession plan public, which some corporate governance experts have called on Apple to do in the wake of investor concern over the way the disclosures were handled.
Jobs "remains deeply involved" in major strategic decisions at Apple, and if that changes the board will inform shareholders, he said.
The next person to approach the microphone was the last to address Jobs' health, and he did so just to wish Jobs "a full and speedy recovery," and lead the room in a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Jobs' 54th birthday was Tuesday.
One original Apple shareholder dating back to the company's 1980 initial public offering used his turn at the microphone to ask Apple to considering returning to Macworld, which it plans to abandon next year. Cook answered that Apple "has very fond memories of Macworld" but repeated the company's belief that with its retail store network it believes it can reach far more people on a weekly basis in those stores.
In a new tack, Cook noted that Apple also has the rare ability in the tech industry to call a press conference and know that the entire tech media world will show up on its doorstep. That wasn't always the case when Apple was showing up at Macworld in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but these days "we have so many other ways to reach our customers."
Scott Adams, who represented the AFSCME Employees Pension plan, asked the board if a Jobs-less Apple would be more willing to meet with shareholders, stating his belief that "Mr. Jobs has always been known as someone who hid directors from shareholders." Adams, who presented the shareholder proposal on executive compensation, noted that a similar non-binding proposal was approved last year by shareholders but Apple took no action on the matter.
Director Bill Campbell, chairman of Intuit and the head of Apple's compensation committee, told Adams that Apple's board considers executive compensation very carefully but prefers to make the decisions regarding the actual dollar amounts themselves, in order to "retain the flexibility to compensate our senior offices as we see fit," noting the role of those officers in generating the strong financial performance Apple has recorded over the past several years.
Al Gore, socialism, and TV ads
No shareholder meeting would be complete without a little comic relief, provided this year by a individual shareholder and a representative of the Parents' Television Council.
One shareholder used the comment period during the official presentation of shareholder proposals to urge a vote against the re-election of director Al Gore, citing Gore's ties to President Obama's choice for Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, through John Huang, a player in a 1996 campaign scandal involving the then-Vice President, contributions obtained at a Buddhist temple, and the phrase "no controlling legal authority." No Apple representative responded to that comment.
Later, the same shareholder railed against shareholder proposals such as the health-care reform measure "that have nothing to do with Apple," deriding the institutional representatives as "socialists." That quickly turned into a running joke among Cook and shareholders posing questions following that outburst, assuring one another that they weren't socialists.
And finally, a representative from the Parents Television Council complained that Apple chooses to advertise during television shows it feels contain inappropriate comments, singling out an episode of CBS's "Two and a Half Men" that contained a stripper and quoting one of the main characters uttering the immortal phrase, "Ooh, ooh, yeah, yeah, yeah," or something like that. (CBS also publishes CNET News, as most of you know.)
Cook claimed not to have seen the show in question, saying "if it's not on ESPN, I probably didn't see it." But he promised to look into the matter and used the opportunity to talk up Apple's work on parental-control technology in the Mac.