Despite Media Ban, FT Writer (and Shareholder) Attends McDonald's Meeting
McDonald's held its annual meeting today, but all the fun was getting there. State and local police cars with flashing lights lined streets leading into McDonald's Oak Brook, Illinois, campus. TV news helicopters roared overhead and way off in the distance a scrum of protesters waved banners and flags. Armed police were ready to keep them, the press, and anyone else without an admission ticket from entering.
Despite the media ban, I managed to get inside, thanks to a handful of McDonald's shares I'd purchased in the 1980s; the 200 or so other shareholders present skewed to older couples in windbreakers who'd started buying the stock at $6 a share and never stopped, plus a contingent of activists.
The meeting Andrew McKenna, the 85-year-old chairman of McDonald's board of directors, called to order at 9 a.m. was anticlimactic. McKenna and the other 12 board members, nine of them 60 or older, were re-elected and two board-backed proposals, on executive compensation and the hiring of an audit firm, passed easily. The only surprise was the approval of one of six shareholder proposals that the board had opposed, a bylaw that will now require McDonald's to include in its proxy materials information on people nominated to the board by qualified shareholders.
New CEO Stephen Easterbrook told the audience that McDonald's 2014 results "were disappointing" with global sales down by 1 percent and operating income declining by 8 percent. 2015 should bring improved food and improved service, via self-ordering kiosks and delivery in New York. "We are a progressive brand with new ways to connect to our customers," Easterbrook said, then opened the floor for questions.
Moms in the audience questioned why McDonald's claims to support healthy lifestyles, but still promotes its food within schools, and activists urged the company to cut ties to the National Restaurant Association, calling the group anti-union and against higher minimum wages. Easterbrook countered with corporate's pledge to boost pay in company-owned stores, but said franchisees control 81 percent of the stores and set their own wages. At 10:10 am, Easterbrook said the meeting had gone over its allotted time, and McKenna adjourned it.
By then, the helicopters, all the protesters and most of the police had disappeared. News reports said a small group of protesters had been allowed onto the campus to drop off cartons of petitions, seeking $15 hourly wages and union representation for all McDonald's workers, but I never saw them.