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    Those cell phones can do anything

    Interesting mini-article on the Nikkei:

    Honda, Matsushita Electric, and about 120 other companies will introduce a system that allows the use of cellular phones to cast votes at general shareholder meetings. Many corporations are giving more consideration to individual shareholders and are urging the exercise of individual voting rights by increasing the convenience [of the system]. The number of corporations that allow Internet-based voting is also expected to increase to around 300. The IT-ization of the operations side of shareholder meetings has been advancing, with the ease with which shareholders can see their wishes reflected in company policy increasing accordingly.

    This represents a big shift. Their influence is not what it once was, but the 総会屋 (soukaiya: “general” + “meeting” + “shopkeeper”) are still around, and I assume that allowing people to vote remotely–surely that’s the purpose of Internet voting?–is to no small degree a move to counter them.

    I wasn’t going to write my own explanation of what the soukaiya do, but there doesn’t seem to be a good, concise definition that I can link to as a primary source. This Mainichi article from a few years ago gives a representative sample of their activities. The soukaiya basically buy small numbers of shares in a company, dig up some of its management’s nastier doings (every company has nasty doings ready for digging, of course) and threaten to disrupt the general shareholders’ meeting if not given hush money. Some of them are tied to vast networks of gangsters, but many are independent. Those not ambitious enough to poke around for scandalous material have been known to simply show up and start blurting out inanities in the hopes that someone will give them a few hundred bucks to shut the hell up. Beats working at 7-Eleven, apparently.

    Of course, soukaiya are the interesting problem. The more mundane but far-reaching problem has been that many Japanese companies engage in mutual shareholding. The big banks were required to sell off their mutually-held shares, and though many other companies within conglomerates have retained them among themselves, the result has been an overall increase in the number of small shareholders. Whether financial transparency has really increased enough for them to have any idea what they’re voting about is debatable, but the fact that air is being let in is encouraging.

    2 Responses to “Those cell phones can do anything”

    1. John says:

      Most companies still sell stock in 100 share lots (or larger), so it takes more capital to do this than what Jesse Jackson needs to disrupt the Coke meeting over here. In the states you can do this with a single $50 share, although you are less likely to get hush money in the States (unless you’re Jesse). “Small shareholder” is a relative term in Japan.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks for mentioning that–I forgot about bundling.

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