Comic Relief at Apple's Shareholder Meeting

 Bryan Chaffin - The Back Page

Some may think that an corporate shareholder meetings are stodgy affairs with greater or lesser degrees of parliamentary rules, lots of "Ayes" and "Secondeds," and a bunch of Grumpy White Old Men™ looking stern, yet serious. Not Apple's shareholder meeting, nosirree!

Oh, sure, the parliamentary rules are there, but in addition to the legendary California laid-backness, dude, of the overall proceedings, we also got treated to a few Kooky moments.

First there was the Science Teacher who needed to tell us all about passing on the Apple I because it was Integer based ("you couldn't do science on it"). There were some more interminable anecdotes before he got to his question/comment, but fortunately his question was a good one. He asked the board of directors to return to Macworld, stressing its importance to third party developers, and saying that, as a shareholder, he thought it was important for Apple to be involved.

Well, so do I, Science Teacher! Apple doesn't, though, and Tim respectfully told him the same sort of thing Phil Schiller told us at Macworld this year. Lots of Macworlds every week at the Apple Stores, blah blah blah, adding that Apple works very hard at developer relations through other avenues.

Since I never wrote about this subject at the time, I would say that Apple is missing the fact that Macworld is important for developers who are able to connect with Mac users and the press. Those developers can't get people to fly in for press conferences, and they don't have stores with millions of people walking through the doors every week, and the vast majority of developers simply can't be represented in an Apple Store.

For that reason, I think Science Teacher is right, but I don't want to hijack the purpose of this column any more than I have, and that purpose is really to pass on the antics of one Shelton Ehrlich,

Mr. Ehrlich is an Apple shareholder, and one quite comfy with his right to speak at a shareholder meeting. His first such opportunity arose when Daniel Cooperman, the chairman of this shareholder meeting, opened up the floor to questions or comments regarding the re-election of Apple's board of directors.

Shareholder Ehrlich voiced his opposition to the election of former Vice President Al Gore to Apple's board based on the fact that Barack Obama had nominated Gary Locke for Commerce Secretary.

"What?" you ask? Yeah, me too, but you see, Mr. Locke was linked to scandal-prone John Huang, an ex-Democratic Party fundraiser, and that reminded Mr. Ehrlich about a finance scandal involving Al Gore in 1996. Though nothing ever came of that scandal, Mr. Gore's response at the time was that there was no governing body responsible for whatever it was that was controversial, and that, you see, reminded Mr. Ehrlich of former President Richard Nixon's assertion that whatever the president did was legal because the president did it.

I'm paraphrasing, but that seemed the meandering gist of his reasoning that Al Gore shouldn't be on Apple's board of directors.

It was worth a titter from some of the people in the overflow room (where I was), but it seems Mr. Gore got re-elected anyway.

Skip to the next proposal, and we have the Teamsters asking for amended bylaws for Apple that will make completely transparent any political donations made by the company. This proposal, like all four shareholder proposals up for vote, failed, but not before Mr. Ehrlich got up to voice his opposition to it on the basis that the Teamsters were themselves not transparent, and thus the proposal was hypocritical.

His second appearance at the mic got another chuckle or two in the overflow room, and remember that he was the only person to speak in opposition to any of the five proposals, and he objected to three of them. It was his third trip to the mic, however, that provided the big laughs.

Brandon Reese of the AFL/CIO's investment arm -- many unions have large investment arms -- was proposing that Apple make some stand or another on the issue of health care reform. In other words, the AFL/CIO wants Apple to support the health care agenda being pursued by the AFL/CIO. Whatever, it also failed, but let's get to Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Ehrlich, who until now had droned slowly when he spoke, walked up to the mic and announced that he was "FED UP!"

"Why are we being inundated with policies that have nothing to do with [Apple as a company]?!?! These people are Socialists and want us to be slaves to the government, GOD DAMNIT!"

As he was saying the last bit of profanity, he was already walking away from the mic, but it didn't stop both the overflow room and the main room from erupting in loud laughter. Maybe it's because the overflow room was filled with commie pinko journalists, or maybe it was because they thought Mr. Ehrlich was a kook.

Or maybe they just enjoyed the irony of someone objecting to Mr. Gore for reasons that have nothing to do with Apple as a company getting to uptight about shareholder proposals that he claims have nothing to with Apple as a company.

The part I really enjoyed, though, was how the next speaker announced, to laughter, that he wasn't a Socialist, and the person after that said that he was pretty sure Mr. Reese from the AFL/CIO not only wasn't a socialist, but that he didn't think there were many Socialists in the room, which was, after all, filled with investors in a capitalist enterprise.

Even better was when Tim Cook opened up the floor to questions by saying, "I'd like to turn this over to the conservatives and Socialists, and everyone else in the room." That got even more laughter, and I wish I could have seen Mr. Ehrlich's face.

I also wonder if he's the same HP shareholder named Shelton Ehrlich who told a reporter that he didn't think HP's Chairman had done anything wrong by hiring private investigators to spy on company employees. I have a sneaking suspicion about that.

Be that as it may, an Apple shareholder meeting is not what many might expect from a multibillion dollar company, at least not this year's.

*In the interest of full disclosure, the author holds a small share in AAPL stock that was not an influence in the creation of this article.