Democracy’s still a dirty word down in the Valley

Business

Democracy’s still a dirty word down in the Valley

Tech giants’ autocrats are showing little sign of relinquishing their grip

James Titcomb

It is AGM season in Silicon Valley, although corporate governance does not mean a great deal here. Putting on a suit, hosting a big group of people in a hotel or conference centre, and spending a day listening to their grievances seems like the sort of old-fashioned inconvenience that tech companies wish had become obsolete by now.

And in at least one case, it has been. Snapchat’s annual meeting last year took place entirely over an internet audio stream. Delivered by the company’s chief lawyer, instead of chief executive Evan Spiegel, the whole charade involved no presentation or question-and-answer session from shareholders, and lasted less than three minutes.

Farcical, but at least it accurately reflected the power that shareholders wield over the company. The shares sold in Snap’s flotation two years ago do not carry voting rights, and the small number of earlier investors that do have votes have no reason to use them: Spiegel and his co-founder Bobby Murphy control 96% of voting shares...

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