Wednesday, 11 July 2012

BlackBerry-maker RIM AGM has sound, little fury

BlackBerry-maker RIM AGM has sound, little fury
Tuesday July 10, 2012 By Josh RubinStaff Reporter
Struggling BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is looking to revitalize its board of directors again.
Speaking to a roomful of often-frustrated shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting, RIM chair Barbara Stymiest acknowledged under questioning Tuesday that the firm had hired a search firm to help find new board members.

“We understand the gaps that the board has,” said Stymiest after pointed questions from activist shareholder Vic Alboini, who had asked whether the board was looking at including more tech industry veterans as members.
Stymiest didn’t provide a timeline for the search for new board members, or commit to any specific number of new hires.
“The Board heard shareholders loud and clear. No one is more committed than we are to demonstrating that RIM has a lot of fight in it. We are well positioned to be a meaningful global player and innovation leader in mobile computing. In just the past year, the Board has added four new directors,” Stymiest responded in an emailed statement to the Star after the meeting.
“Additionally, as I said at the AGM, the Board is always considering potential new directors and that process continues.”
Before the AGM Tuesday morning, Alboini had said he was hoping to propose three alternative directors, including Silicon Valley veteran Eric Bogosian. But he backed off after realizing he didn’t have the support of institutional shareholders.
“Institutional shareholders don’t like to make a lot of noise and get involved, but if they don’t make the necessary changes, that could change,” said Alboini in an interview after the meeting.
Alboini’s Jaguar Financial pushed vocally for the ouster of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who stepped down in January.
Alboini also said after the meeting that RIM should target the money it pays board members as part of its cost-cutting plan.
“These directors are paid between $190,000 (U.S.) and $200,000 a year each. It should be closer to $100,000,” said Alboini.
“The Board’s compensation is in line with that of other boards in the industry and was determined taking into consideration data and input from its independent compensation consultant and with a view to being able to recruit new directors,” RIM spokesman Nick Manning said in an emailed statement.
Alboini’s biggest beefs with the board is its “clubby, comfortable” demeanour, and what he sees as a relative lack of tech industry experience.
Inside the meeting, the largest cheer of the day came when an investor said none of the existing board members should have been elected.
“I’m extremely irritated. … Why did they let it get out of hand so badly before they did anything about it?” asked Phil Rason, adding “what this company needs is an upheaval like CP.”
The meeting was a mixed bag for Albrecht Weller of Schwaben Capital. Impressed by Heins’s performance, Weller was less enthused with Stymiest.
“I was very disappointed with the chairwoman’s lack of progress on the make-up of the board,” said Weller, who was hoping for RIM to add a board member from outside North America, in particular Asia.
In an interview, Ironfire Capital founder Eric Jackson slammed the performance of the board.
“In what Alice-in-Wonderland world does anyone responsible for destroying 95 per cent of a national icon get to keep their job?” said Jackson, who says five directors should be ousted from the board, including Stymiest.
The majority of shareholders didn’t seem to be in the mood to force matters. RIM’s entire slate of 10 board members was reelected, including John Richardson, whose future had been in doubt after a report from proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis had criticized him.
But Richardson had support withheld from voters representing 30.2 per cent of shares. In fact, every single one of the directors had significant chunks of support withheld, ranging from 14.49 per cent for newcomer Timothy Dattels and 14.5 per cent for Fairfax Financial boss Prem Watsa.
In the absence of having an alternative slate of directors to vote for, those numbers are telling, said Jackson.
“A large part of the remaining shareholders in this company want to see these folks swept out of office and be held accountable for their (lack of) actions.

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