In just a few weeks most of the nation's major corporations will have completed their yearly ritual annual shareholders meetings.
The sessions vary from largely boring to downright boring depending in large part on whether stockholders are satisfied with the company's performance.
The tempo of the meeting also depends on whether one or all of the small coterie of professional shareholders chooses to attend.
The group numbering probably no more than four [WORD ILLEGIBLE] from annual meeting to annual meeting to play a self appointed role of assuring that companies deal honestly with their shareholders (who under American law if not practice are the owners of the corporation) and to continually remind corporate managements that small shareholders have rights
The nations chief executives are now preparing to reture to their suiters, escaping the glare of of public meetings for another 12 months. The small shareholder having sat through countless hours of debate and argument is probably ready to sign any proxy that would retire the professional shareholders also.
Professional shareholders - who squabble among themselves as well as with managment - have made their case.
Increasingly the average small shareholder understands his or her rights and is exercising them intelligently. At corporate meetings where none of the professionals appear insightful questioning of the chief executive is no less in evidence.
Furthermore because the professional shareholders are experts at getting the floor to make their case - attending scores of meetings a year - they often tend to dominate meetings, excluding other shareholders less used to asserting themselves.
And the professional shareholders take up so much inne that new, important issues of corporate governance that they care little about - such as the proper corporate posture in doing business with countries that violate human rights - are delayed until late in the meeting when many shareholders have left.
Whether the professional shareholders dedication to corporate democracy is as great as their dedication to their own personal publicity also can be questioned, as one small shareholder in McGraw Hill Inc. remarked privately after that company's annual meeting several weeks ago.
McGraw Hill's management and board led by its chairman and founding family member, Harold McGraw, raised probably the greatest challenge to sharesholder democracy that would be dealt with in the current annual meeting season. McGraw and his board spent $3.4 million to ward off a take over try by American Express Co that would have paid the owners of McGraw Hill stock a premium of $14 for each sh
Although the McGraw Hill decision - that the offer was inadequate and that shareholders would be better off continuing to own an independent company - may have been the correct one a host of McGraw Hill shareholders would have liked the right to make that decision for themselves.
Although about 50 members of the press showed up for this year's meeting (probably 49 more than last year and shareholders crowded the company's auditorium and a special side room not a single representative of the self-appointed champions of corporate democracy attended.
Yet, several days later, the professionals were in evidence at the RCA annual meeting just two blocks from the McGraw-Hill building in midtown Manhattan.
Evelyn Y. Davis the newest of the professional shareholders, took up much of the meeting's time pushing Tonight Show host Johnny Carson as a substitute director for NBC Chairman Jane Cahill Pfeiffer.
Davis - who has been at it for about 15 years - warned RCA Chairman Edger H. Griffiths that Pfeiffer was leading a cabal to take away his power. Carson, who has been trying to get out of a contract with NBC, soon would qualify as an outside director.
Davis' resolution may have shown that she has a sense of humor but it old little to protect or expand shareholder rights. Carson garnered 302 votes to nearly 60 million for Pfeiffer.
All this is not to say that professional shareholders have not raised worth-while issues and won some battles throughout the years.
Lewis Gilbert, the dean of the professional shareholders, has spent more than 40 years taking executives to task for their lack of responsiveness to the shareholder.He has awakened many companies to the need to publish reports on annual meetings for shareholders who could not attend because of distance or time.
He also told major corporations that the so-called independent accounting firms were not so independent and were the tools of management. That warning was laughed off b the tools of mamagement. That warning was laughed off by most corporations in the 1960s. The accounting scandals of the 1970s attest to Gilbert's accuracy.
Wilma Soss, a corporate gadfly since the late 1940s, has harped consistently on the lack of women on corporate boards and in high-level management positions a serious charge that many companies had troubles taking seriously because Soss years ago often showed up at annual meetings in outrageous garb such as clown outfits.
Davis - who publishes as annual account of her performance at shareholder meetings that she sells to major corporations - is usually the first to the microphone during a meeting, addressing chief executives by their first name. Most of the chief executives call her Mrs. Davis.
Like them or not, many of America's stock owners owe a lot to the professional minority shareholders, who tweaked managements at a time when it was neither pleasant nor convenient to do so.
Thanks in part to Lewis Gilbert and Evelyn Y. Davis, corporations now tell their stockholders what their accountants do and how much a company's legal fees are in any given year. Corporate boards themselves, as Soss pushed, sport more women (although not many) and more women outside directors who (in theory, at least) are not be-holden to management.
But, today more often than not, their performances add little to either the meeting itself or to the knowledge that stockholders gain about the corporations they own.