Google Meeting

Shareholder meetings are a strange piece of corporate theater: Required for public companies, attended by activists and senior citizens, and functionally mixed with equal parts rote procedure and circus.

At Google’s annual shareholder meeting this week, the protests were slightly bigger and peppier than last year, and they hired a plane to fly around with a “Don’t Be Evil” banner. Google let the protesters deeper into its campus, where in the public courtyard they waved a large colorful parachute with the Google Chrome logo that said #Don’tFundEvil. The causes at stake included displeasure with the company’s financial support of organizations lobbying against climate change, its employees displacing and evicting local residents, and its contract employee treatment.

As the meeting itself kicked off in the cool of the Google cafeteria, Google chairman Eric Schmidt joked yet again about how the free provided lunch was at least half the value of attending, and Google’s chief lawyer David Drummond used the same line as last year about being glad for a formal occasion to wear a suit and tie.

This year’s meeting ran extra-long, closer to two hours than one, in part because the Reverend Jesse Jackson showed up. Complaining at length that tech companies have too few African Americans and Latinos in their senior ranks, he was the only speaker to get more than a “we hear your concerns” response, with Drummond promising that the company would soon release statistics about its workforce diversity.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt and other executives take questions from shareholders on Wednesday.“We had planned to disclose that next month, and we will be following through with that, ” Drummond said of the data release.

Google’s outside shareholders had formally entered six different suggested changes to the company’s governance, which addressed some of the protesters’ concerns like disclosures about lobbying funding. But Drummond said that prior to the meeting, advance voting had guaranteed that none of them would pass.

In the most extreme case, 93 percent of advanced votes were against Google reforming its tax policies. The shareholders — or at least those who matter — had already spoken. They don’t want Google paying more taxes.

After Schmidt waxed poetic about how “technology reflects the intense optimism of humanity, ” it was time for the open Q&A. If you have one single share of Google or you represent someone who does, you have the right to ask the company a question, and Google is polite and indulgent in its responses, often promising that an executive will follow up personally to address the concern.

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Q&A

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