Target to Shareholders: Don’t Ask, We Won’t Tell

Discussion
May 22, 2003
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Target’s annual shareholder’s meeting was completed in record time as the retailer did its own version of don’t ask, don’t tell.


The meeting had been in progress less than thirty minutes when it was adjourned by Target’s chief executive officer, Robert Ulrich. The adjournment prevented shareholders from asking questions about the company’s performance and policies.


Doug Scovanner, Target’s chief financial officer, told members of the media the company answers questions and concerns of shareholders on a daily basis. Mr. Scovanner and others in Target management do not believe question and answer sessions at annual meetings are an effective forum for addressing shareholder concerns.


He also pointed out previous annual meetings included Q&A and shareholders asked few or no questions.


Not all shareholders were happy with the decision taken. Aaron Epstein, a shareholder who traveled from California to attend the meeting in Minneapolis said, “This is the first time in 30 years they didn’t take questions. They (Target) are a good company and do good work. But the impression is they have something to hide.’


Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on Target
not giving shareholders the opportunities to ask questions at the company’s
annual meeting?


What Messrs. Ulrich and Scovanner fail to recognize is
that if shareholders didn’t ask questions at previous annual meetings it was
their choice to do so.


Target management’s unilateral decision, even if correct
in practical terms, took that choice away this year.


Leadership is often as much about style as it is substance.
Not taking questions from investors at a shareholder’s meeting simply doesn’t
look good.


Nor does a top executive receiving a better compensation
package when other members of the company are having their’s cut. Mr. Ulrich
may very well deserve a pay hike and Target may be right to restrict access
to medical benefits. The two acts viewed side-by-side, however, send the wrong
message. [George
Anderson – Moderator
]

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