HAVE you ever seen something you’ve said quoted as fact by a magazine without them actually speaking to you. It’s a strange feeling. I know because it has just happened to me with IR Magazine.
The story starts on Wednesday when CorporateCounsel.net editor Broc Romanek posted a piece about ExxonMobil inviting people to submit email questions to potentially be answered at their upcoming annual meeting.
In that piece, Broc wrote: “I don’t believe this is a first, but I can’t recall if anyone else has done it.”
That prompted me to quickly drop Broc a line in an email. Really just a single line clutched from memory, here’s what it said:
“Exxon took the idea from IBM, which probably got it from BHP Billiton.”
Like I said, it’s just one line. But in that one line is established a clear lineage for this practice.
So imagine my surprise to read a short item on IR Magazine‘s website yesterday. Here’s how it goes (I’ve highlighted the relevant bits):
May 17, 2007
Adopters expect wider-ranging investor dialogue
NEW YORK — More companies are allowing shareholders to email questions to management in advance of their annual general meetings (AGMs). In early May, ExxonMobil posted a form on the IR section of its website seeking input ahead of its May 30 event. IBM did the same thing in April.
The idea to provide shareholders with the email outlet may have originated with Australia’s BHP Billiton, which has had this option since 2005.
AGM email may be set for widespread adoption since it is an easy way to accommodate investors. ‘Right now, shareholders can only access directors either by asking a question at an annual shareholders’ meeting, although some boards don’t even attend those…or if they have the clout to obtain a private meeting with a few directors, which few shareholders do,’ says Broc Romanek, editor of TheCorporateCounsel.net.
It’s like an echo, isn’t it? So just for the record, I said that first.
Oh, that’s what you wanted to know
But can I let you in on a little secret? I neither knew I was going to be quoted nor did I know that the issue was who did this first.
Because if the question was who did it first, I will tell you that BHP Billiton was not the first in 2005, as IR Magazine suggests.
Actually, according to their website, BHP Billiton, which is really a dual UK/Australia company, did it back in 2004, when 300 shareholders submitted questions. (Web tip for IR Mag: If you move the little wheel on your mouse, the page will scroll down and you’ll see more of a web page.)
But someone else did it before that. Ahead of its 2003 annual meeting, Commonwealth Bank of Australia invited shareholders to submit questions. The bank received around 3,000 questions from over 1,000 shareholders. Impressive!
Must be true, IR Magazine said so
Now, I don’t think Commonwealth Bank was the first either. This practice is quite popular among UK companies, especially those like insurers and banks that have large retail shareholder bases.
And I might be wrong, but I think Telstra, Australia’s most widely held company was first to come up with the idea after its annual meetings became unwieldy. Or was it AMP, or the former WMC?
But all of this is irrelevant now because BHP Billiton gets the credit. It has now been published by the industry authority, IR Magazine, so it has to be true.
And that, dear readers, is how myths get started — with off-the-cuff emails from unsuspecting researchers just trying to be helpful.