Shareholder woes: My first AGM this year is that of ICDCI which was held on Thursday February 21, at the Safari Park Hotel.
Sometimes it’s painful to be a shareholder and today was one of those days. I’m out of practice and forgot to check in early – and arrived at the Hotel at 11.m. sharp only to find a very long queue outside. It would have been better to be a proxy today as that queue moved faster. But the company had only four computer stations to register any of its 40,000 shareholders who showed up – and I didn’t get processed till noon after spending an hour standing in the hot sun.
The meeting was almost over and I was able to catch a few comments by the MD and the Chairman of the company:
- On property: they sold two buildings in Nairobi, but are going to invest in the real estate sector again – and develop a building on a plot in downtown Nairobi.
- On Eveready: it has not performed well (for shareholders) but by going public they are now able to liquidate part of their shareholding.
- On Rift Valley Railways – it’s a long term investment, but they hope to get a return on the investment within 4 years.
- On the company’s sustainability in these tough political times – they aim to diversify regionally, to minimize country-specific risks.
- One shareholder complained about late delivery of the meeting invitations & company accounts (through the post office) and the Chairman answered that they are concerned about the cost of printing and distribution of the company accounts – they may print abridged ones in future and e-mail others or put them on their web site.
Hot Button issue was the proposed name change of the company from ICDCI to Centum Investments: almost all shareholders who spoke, on the matter, opposed the name change of the company – some saying old is gold, the new name is not African and can’t be translated, they don’t want to lose identity etc.
The Company Chairman was at pains to explain when one director Mrs. Pauline Muriuki stood up and exhorted shareholders to approve the name change. She said the company wanted to differentiate itself from (former parent) ICDC, and also Uchumi and the Government – saying negative stories/Matope that involved these companies affect the ICDCI share price. She also mentioned that the shares allow the company to go international (will be listed on the Uganda Stock Exchange. She said other companies had changed their names to reflect their new identities and had succeeded thereafter such as Unilever.
She was clearly worried as the company had already put in place a multi-million campaign for the new name which was yet to be revealed (a launch dinner to be held today but unfortunately coincided with the launch of CNBC Africa in Nairobi and was canceled) – also the company had already printed out shirts and gift items for shareholders with Centum to take home after the meeting
Is there shareholder democracy?: The Centum matter was eventually put to a vote on the floor and passed, but the Chairman failed to ask if there were any opposers to the name change. The matter should actually have been put to a vote (with physical ballots). But would it have mattered anyway (since directors – businessman Chris Kirubi and ICDC (23%) combined own 50% of the company’s votes?. Still, it was a warning that companies should not take shareholders votes for granted
Goodies: Centum-branded polo-shirt, tote bag and calendar. The Hotel had prepared a bland buffet lunch, and the company may have been better off handing out packed lunch boxes as the shareholders were unruly as they queued for the gifts and food.