How not to deal with shareholders

May 15, 2019 13:03
Mindray Medical International, with a 174 billion yuan market cap, should learn its lesson on how to treat shareholders. Photo: Mindray/Facebook

Shareholders' meetings are cheerful occasions where company officials, normally aloof and unapproachable, go out of their way to please investors.

They highlight the company's achievements and sometimes play down less pleasant developments as they smile from ear to ear. Of course, higher payouts and freebies are most welcome during such events.

However, something else was witnessed at the first annual general meeting of Shenzhen-based Mindray Medical International Ltd. (300760.CN), a maker of medical devices and accessories, on Monday.

The group's board secretary, Li Wenzhao, probably having got up on the wrong side of the bed and apparently irked that shareholders kept coming in and making a lot of noise, remarked: "These shareholders, many of them only have 100 shares, and they come to the meeting. I really don't know what they're up to." Or words to that effect.

Well, truth to tell, they may just have 100 shares, the minimum lot, but they are entitled to attend the meeting to see what the company they have invested in is doing with their money. And for that, we believe, they are entitled to a reasonable degree of courtesy and respect, and not be treated as unwelcome guests.

The shareholders, though miffed by the official's aside, held their tongue throughout the proceedings. But they did give Li a piece of their mind later on – on social media.

As to be expected, their angry reactions about the way they were treated at the meeting went viral, and reached those concerned, including Li and her bosses.

In fact, most of the comments were not about Mindray's results, or any such corporate concerns, but focused on what they perceived as the official's arrogant demeanor.

The shareholders also highlighted the fact that Li, a post-'80s graduate of Peking University, made four million yuan (US$582,000) last year.  

She joined Mindray in 2007 and now handles investor relations, financial management as well as investment and corporate strategy – a big shot in the company.

The next morning, a contrite Li issued an open letter of apology to the company's shareholders, acknowledging that “I have failed to have proper communication with the attending shareholders and hence made some inappropriate statements."

And so, she wrote, “I want to express my most sincere apology to all shareholders.” Her letter also hinted that the company was ready to communicate further with the shareholders.

We hope that settles the matter for now, and Mindray officials – Li, especially – have learned a lesson or two from that incident.

Some shareholders may appear officious, asking tough questions as if they own the company – well, they do own the company, as a matter of fact.

But such an attitude displayed by Li has no place in the corporate world, lest the company's market value should suffer.

A company – even a big one, or especially a big one like Mindray, with a 174 billion yuan market cap and considered "the Huawei of medical equipment" – simply can't afford to antagonize shareholders.

Here in Hong Kong, company officials are very much aware of the importance of shareholders, and any event where they are present are regarded as very special occasions.

Companies treat investors like members of the royalty, they offer them five-star cakes and dim sum, or gift coupons, knowing that the way to the shareholder's heart is through their stomach.

Sometimes, company officials forget their manners and pay dearly for it.

One will still remember the case of a chief financial officer of PAX Global Technology (00327.HK), who had a heated exchange with a financial analyst and asked the latter to leave a post-results briefing.

A video of the incident went viral on social media, and the CFO resigned after a few days.

So, company officials and board members, put your best foot forward when in front of shareholders. That may spell the difference between a successful career and unemployment.

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EJ Insight writer