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Effective communication is one of the most important tools to sustain a family business over the long term. When family business owners and the broader family feel informed about the family business, they will feel a greater connection to the family business. This helps to reduce the risk of the family losing control of the business and to attract family members who are interested in contributing to the family enterprise in different ways. 

Unfortunately, many multi-generational business-owning families find it difficult to keep the family shareholders engaged and informed about the family enterprise. Part of the issue is that it can be difficult for family business leaders to decide what the right level of information is to share with family shareholders. As a result, many Annual Shareholder Meeting agendas lack substance; they tend to be brief updates on the business and focused on voting by shareholders on a slate of company decisions reserved for shareholders. 

For many businesses, this is the time of the year for Annual Shareholder Meetings. This is a great opportunity to rethink how you structure your Annual Shareholder Meetings to not just focus on voting on shareholder matters but to also inform the shareholders of the key activities taking place across the family enterprise and to drive family engagement. 

Below is a checklist to help you prepare and organize an informative and engaging Annual Shareholder Meeting: 

  • Establish an Annual Shareholder Meeting Planning Committee: Many family businesses rely on the Corporate Secretary or Family Office Director to plan the Annual Shareholder Meeting. It can be helpful to establish a small planning committee composed of 3-4 people that are a combination of family shareholder representatives and business representatives. This committee can help to develop a meeting agenda and content delivery plan that will incorporate the interests of the business and its shareholders. 
  • Give the shareholders a voice in planning the meeting agenda: Communicating information about the family business that shareholders are interested in understanding will help to build trust between the family business leaders and the family shareholders. 
  • To design the Annual Shareholder Meeting agenda to address topics of interest to shareholders, create and distribute a survey to the shareholders to get a pulse on what matters to shareholders and to give them a voice in the meeting planning process.
  • Define the Goals for the Shareholder Meeting and Set the Agenda:  Based on the input received on the meeting topics from the shareholders and business leaders, define what you hope to accomplish in the meeting. Consider including updates on the performance of the family business(es), updates on new governance structures or changes to existing structures, updates on family and shareholder policies, and fun family team building activities. The agenda should also incorporate discussion, updates, and/or decisions related to the shareholders and the family’s annual development plans (e.g., relationship or communication skill building). Also, consider balancing meeting topics that are updates to inform the shareholders of important business developments versus engagement topics, which are meant to encourage deeper discussion from shareholders. 
  • Distribute the Meeting Agenda and Supplemental Pre-Reading in Advance: To give family shareholders time to plan for attending the meeting and time to review materials, try to distribute the meeting agenda at least 1-month in advance of the meeting. Distribute meeting documents such as slides and family shareholder policies for review at least 1-week before the meeting. 
  • Organize a High Impact Virtual Annual Shareholder Meeting: Most Annual Shareholder Meetings will be virtual this year because of the pandemic. One of the benefits to organizing a virtual shareholder meeting is that it is easier for family shareholders to participate, especially if family members are geographically dispersed. The main challenge to a virtual shareholder meeting is engaging the participants in discussion. 
  • Leadership of the Shareholder Meeting: Establish clear roles for who is leading the overall meeting and facilitating different parts of the agenda. The agenda provides the structure for how the meeting should flow. A good meeting leader will stick to the agenda but allow for discussion where family members want to explore certain topics. If you are organizing a virtual shareholder meeting, can is helpful to assign someone to manage the technology being used during the meeting such as the message board, live polling, document sharing, and breakout groups. 
  • Collect Feedback and Debrief on the Annual Shareholder Meeting:  After any important meeting such as a Board meeting or Annual Shareholder meeting, it is important for the meeting organizers to receive feedback on the meeting and to debrief. Collecting feedback on the design of the meeting and outcomes, provides the meeting organizers with information that can be used to improve how future meetings are organized and facilitated. The feedback process can also be used to capture outstanding questions or concerns shareholders have that should be addressed after the meeting. The Trusted Family survey tool can be used to distribute an Annual Shareholder Meeting survey.


Sample Virtual Shareholder Meeting Agenda


8:30am Kickoff, agenda, and objectives overview and personal updates

9:00am Important updates: e.g., Shareholder Conflict of Interest Policy, Dividend Policy

9:30am Review of company financials

10:00am Break

10:15am Shareholder expectations for the new year: Shareholder goals and performance         metrics

10:45am Discuss the next generation ownership education plan

11:15am Voting on company decisions reserved for shareholders

12:15pm Lunch

1:30pm Goals and priorities for the Shareholder Council for the next 12-months

2:00pm Goals and priorities for the Family Council for the next 12-months

2:30pm Adjourn