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Why Amazon Is Secretive About Its Annual Meeting

Once a year, top executives at publicly traded companies take an hour to talk directly to the people who invested money in the firms – shareholders. But Amazon on Wednesday demonstrated its well known obsession for secrecy. Not only did the company choose for the third consecutive year not to webcast the shareholder meeting, it’s impossible to find the results of the shareholder voting on the company’s Investor Relations website – so shareholders who weren’t in Seattle yesterday morning are out of luck.

Even journalists in attendance were frustrated by the company’s suppressive practices – Geekwire noted the company now doesn’t allow cameras or computers to be used during the meeting, restricting journalists to pen and paper, a restriction barely understandable when practiced by the Supreme Court but demeaning for journalists covering a shareholder meeting.

One shareholder piped up and asked Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos during the Q&A session after the formal part of the meeting about the company’s approach to talking to the media, according to Geekwire.

Bezos’s response: “Our primary approach is, we talk when we have something to say. I never think of us as secretive, I think of us as mostly quiet.” The CEO then went on to say Amazon takes great care to try and keep its product roadmaps quiet and said, “you really need to be cognizant of how your competitors are going to glean useful tidbits from seemingly harmless disclosures.”

Shareholder Voting
Amazon shareholders had a number of issues on which to vote.

1) To elect the nine directors named in the Proxy Statement to serve until the next Annual Meeting of Shareholders or until their respective successors are elected and qualified;

2) To ratify the appointment of Ernst & Young LLP as our independent auditors for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2014;

3) To conduct an advisory vote to approve our executive compensation;

4) To consider and act upon a shareholder proposal regarding disclosure of corporate political contributions.

Amazon spokesperson Erik Fairleigh told EcommerceBytes shareholders voted in line with the recommendations in the proxy statement. The company had recommended shareholders vote for items 1 through 3, and against the fourth proposal.

Post-Meeting Presentation and Q&A
Since journalists were restricted to pen and paper and no computers were allowed at the annual meeting, there’s no recording or transcript of the call to reference. Typically CEOs give a presentation to investors after the meeting with slides, but Amazon did not make them available to EcommerceBytes, if indeed there was a slide presentation.

Geekwire attended the meeting and shared some factoids, but very little other information could be found, even on financial news websites.

  • Amazon added 30 million new customers last year to bring its total active user base to 244 million.
  • By the end of the year Amazon will have 10,000 Kiva robots on its floors, up from more than 1,000 currently.

The Seattle Times published its report of the meeting Wednesday night and covered some of the other shareholder questions.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.