SALT LATE CITY, April 26 AT&T Inc
prevailed against heavy shareholder support for a proposal to
separate the Chairman and Chief Executive role at the telephone
company on Friday, adding to a rising tide of demands for
governance change in corporate America.
Almost 44 percent of votes cast on Friday were in support of
a shareholder proposal to require that only independent
directors serve as Chairman at AT&T's annual meeting in Salt
Lake City, Utah.
The proposal was rejected by 56.2 percent of votes at
AT&T's first shareholder meeting since Chairman and Chief
Executive Randall Stephenson's failed attempt last year to buy
smaller rival T-Mobile USA for $39 billion.
Stephenson has held both Chairman and CEO roles since he
took over the top job in 2007 from Ed Whitacre, who also held
both roles. The attempt to buy T-Mobile USA was seen as
Stephenson's boldest move since he took the helm.
At the sidelines of the meeting, AT&T's President Ralph de
la Vega told Reuters that the rejection of the proposal "was the
right way to go." "It makes for a more efficient company when
one person runs it," he said.
RISING SHAREHOLDER SUPPORT
Shareholder support for separating the chairman and CEO role
has been rising among U.S. investors each year, according to
data gathered by corporate governance firm Institutional
Shareholder Services from company filings and investors.
Also on Friday, 46 percent of shareholders at Honeywell
International Inc voted in favor of a resolution that
would also have split the chairman and CEO roles.
These votes compared with an average of 34.6 percent support
for similar proposals among shareholders at 30 companies last
year, ISS said.
A majority of shareholders approved such proposals at four
of the 30 companies ISS looked at last year. In 2010, the
average support for such proposals was at 28 percent, according
ISS cited six other instances at U.S annual meetings so far
this year where shareholder support for such resolutions was
higher than the 2011 average.
Last month, Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Iger took on the
chairman role despite objections from ISS. The Disney board
announced its plan to consolidate the roles in October.
The move recalled for some Disney shareholders the
turbulence surrounding former CEO Michael Eisner, who was
stripped of his chairman role in 2004.
Some shareholders of Rupert Murdoch's scandal-plagued News
Corp have also been calling to separate the role of
Chairman and CEO, both held by Murdoch.