For years, Daimler executives have dreaded the day of the company’s annual shareholders meeting. Not only is it long and tedious, but it’s also the one day of the year when the company’s executives really aren’t in control of every detail in corporate life. In addition — as a new study by the Germany’s respected Rimini Protocol suggests — it also can be pretty dramatic at times.
The Rimini Protocol isn’t some kind of business study group. It’s a program that has now trained some of the best young filmmakers and theater directors in Europe today, noted Helgard Haug, an instructor in applied theater science in project headquarters in Giessen, near Frankfurt, Germany’s nominal business capitol.
Haug said she had spent three years studying various annual meetings or Hauptversammlung as they are known in German, attending dozens of them. She thought about focusing on a single company Henkel or Deutsche Bank, perhaps German’s most powerful company. But ultimately she settled on Daimler’s meeting for the focus of the study because it seemed to have a dramatic structure all of its own.
Indeed, over the years the Daimler annual meetings in Berlin have produced its share of striking moments. In 2004, a shareholder uprising played out during the meeting that forced the executives at what was then DaimlerChrysler to reconsider and finally to kill plans for an alliance with the Japanese automaker Mitsubishi.
The following year the meeting had an operatic quality to it as a handful of irate shareholders launched a ferocious attack on Juergen Schrempp, then the company’s chief executive officer, for building a hideaway office in Mercedes-Benz dealership in Munich to appease his much younger wife. As the attacks picked up momentum that day, Hilmar Kopper, a pillar of the German business establishment who was then chairman of the company’s board of supervisors, shook his head in sorrow as he called the attack on Schrempp shameful and petty. But the attacks made front-page headlines all across Germany the next day; less than 90 days later Schrempp had resigned.
Criticism of the small shareholders during the shareholders meeting also laid the groundwork for the de-merger with Chrysler. The small shareholders had been suspicious of the deal from the start and as the evidence piled up that the financial benefits touted by Schrempp were never going materialize, Daimler executives came under increasing pressure from investment funds across Germany to dump Chrysler.
Even Daimler executives acknowledge the meetings in Berlin have come to have their own unique character. “There are a lot of crazy people in Berlin,” Schrempp said.
Thus, the Rimini Protocol had plenty to talk about as they prepared to deconstruct this year’s meeting through workshops and discussions with students, reporters and anyone else interested in the annual meeting process. “We wanted to turn it and look at it from a little bit different angle,” Haug said. (more…)