Safaricom 2010 AGM
Angry Shareholders: really complained to management, mostly about the low dividend, and lack of freebies – and the ~1,000 shareholders largely went home unsatisfied (the bus stage was quite full).
Low dividend: Different shareholders complained 20 cents ($0.0025) dividend per share was too low, was not recognized as currency in Kenya, was not comparable to the company’s 19 billion ($238 million) profit, was not worth picking if it fell to the ground etc. The Board Chairman replied that this was a result of the large number of shares and, it was 100% increase of the previous year, and they were looking into share consolidation as a way of making it more meaningful
No SWAG: Shareholders complained about not being given transport to the venue, why there were shirts only for Safaricom staff (they [shareholders] are better ambassadors of the brand), why they only got bottles of water & juice on a cold morning, and why they could not treat shareholders better, when companies like Kengen, many shareholders (~¼ of Safaricom) could? One shareholder who looked like he had been to a ‘local’ before he spoke, said he regretted buying the shares, admonished the company for taking from the poor (subscribers) to give to the rich (board), hurled a few other insults in his speech and walked out to some applause.
No SWAG also includes annual reports, which were handed out at the door, but which shareholders felt should have been mailed to them. The Chairman said that this was a logistical impossible, it would cost almost 250 million ($3 million) to mail 800,000 books and last year shareholders had themselves approved that reports be placed on their website or headquarters, with summarized versions printed in the newspapers. How unwieldy is the large shareholder base? The registrars’ computer list at the entrance was over a month old and they did not have records of anyone who bought shares in the last few weeks.
Is CSR bad for shareholders?: Later on when not satisfied with the Chairman’s response on the dividend, they began tackling expense items in the books to see if they could dig out some cuts to yield more profit. Ccorporate social responsibility items came under fire; this argument was first seen at Stanchart a few years ago when shareholders felt ‘their dividend’ was being diverted to unauthorized expensive projects (said shareholder and former MP Jimmy Angwenyi), and which were costly (But Chairman replied that the total amount was Kshs 250 million, broken into small impactful sponsorships like boreholes and schools that had no overall impact on the 8 billion dividend [$100 million]) . Again they went further and began tackling huge payment items (anything larger than the dividend) and suggesting to the Board ways to cut down these costs.
Competition from Zain Airtel: Shareholders also took a stab at management for the high costs of their services, in relation to Zain who had recently cut call and SMS costs to 3 shillings and 1 shilling respectively arguing that the company management is asleep and they will wake up when they find their customers have fled unless they too cut prices. Outgoing CEO Michael Joseph took on these and said they had studied Airtel in India and were ready for the price cuts, but were surprised by the underhand tactics/ accusations that followed. Safaricom will find a balance to protect their customer numbers, market share revenue, but most important were their profit margins. He added these prices were unsustainable, but that Safaricom would still make more money at 3 shillings than anyone else.
Share price: Later in comments about the share price which has declined in the last month, CEO said the market over-reacted to Zain/Airtel promo they are due to foreign sellers who don’t understand Kenya. They take parts in road shows to teach such investors about the market, how they EBIT margin of 42% is exceptional compared to others like MTN and Orascom, and 4 of the 5 analysts who cover Safaricom put the share price as Kshs 5.5 to 5.8 (who’s the dissenter?).
Farewell Michael Joseph: Late the Chairman called on shareholders to thank retiring CEO Michael Joseph who built the company up from nothing in 10 years to be leading revenue earner and top brand in Kenya.
Waving the patriotic flag: After the meeting ended, CEO gave a talk on his pride in the company, which is a Kenyan company one can be proud of with its customers, M-Pesa (which people all over the world come to study), M-Kesho savings accounts (500,000 users signed up in 2 months). It is 60% owned by Kenyans, which none of their competitors (i.e. Zain, Orange, Essar can claim), all their spend is in Kenya, all their profits are re-invested in Kenya, with nothing outsourced outside. It has 2600 employees (all in Kenya) , and supports over 250,000 other Kenyans through dealership and mpesa agents and another 1,500 in customer care (which they can move that to India but that would not be in spirit of the company)