There is power in one voice and one vote.
I attended WorldCom’s annual meeting June 1st. A Mississippi College student is working for me this summer, and I asked her to go with me. With the exception of a small stir over a shareholder proposal which encouraged the board to do away with a “poison pill” enacted several years ago, this appeared to be one of the more mundane gatherings. I hoped Kelly would not be disappointed.
But before the actual meeting could be adjourned, a woman stood up and asked to read a statement. The CEO, Bernie Ebbers, was hesitant to allow her to stray from the agenda, but because of his desire to accommodate shareholders, he agreed.
Dr. DeLores Tucker introduced herself as the chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women and a representative of the Parents Television Council. I remembered the meeting two years ago when Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition descended on Jackson, and I incorrectly assumed this would be a rehash of those issues.
I was surprised when Dr. Tucker addressed WorldCom’s advertising. Michael Jordan? Bugs Bunny? Who couldn’t love that? But the problem was not with the ads. It was with the programming the ads are supporting. WorldCom’s ads have been running on “WWF Smackdown,” that bawdy wrestling show.
Tucker, with apologies to the audience, read a list of words used on this show. Many she could only spell. In the interest of propriety, I won’t repeat the list. Suffice it to say, I was embarrassed just to be hearing them. She also talked of the graphic representations on the show which degrade people of all races and genders and called the show “porno.” And then she introduced her ringer… Mr. Steve Allen.
Kelly whispered in my ear, “Who’s Steve Allen?”
WHO’S STEVE ALLEN? Ah, these kids today!
Mr. Allen spoke about their rebuffed requests to have WorldCom remove their ads from the show. Mr. Ebbers response? “I wish you would have come to me.” The response of the shareholders to Tucker and Allen? Loud applause.
In 1989, WorldCom had fewer than 400 employees. Today, that number is 77,000. This company has grown tremendously in the last 10 years. With that growth, the ability of the CEO to monitor and approve every action has diminished. Ebbers must depend on other people to handle the everyday details of running this giant. And with that has come a dilution of the values that have been the hallmark of this company.
I had no idea WorldCom advertised on WWF. I don’t watch the show. Apparently, neither does Ebbers. He acknowledged that this one slipped by him. He also agreed to take this issue very seriously.
WorldCom and Ebbers suffered a red face when confronted by Tucker and Allen. But, judging by the response, the chances are good that these ads will be yanked and that heads will roll for this embarrassment.
As we left the meeting, I turned to Kelly and spoke about the process. You only have to own one share in a company to be an owner. That one share and that one vote entitles you to express your opinion about how a company is run. If enough people agree with you, you can make a difference.
There is power in one voice and one vote.
Nancy Lottridge Anderson, CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Clinton, (601) 924-9828. Her e-mail address is email@example.com, and her Web site is www.newper.com.
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