The 2015 Annual Shareholders’ Meeting

Since I live within artillery range of Microsoft, I got up at 06:30 to attend the annual shareholders’ meeting. I showed up early and got a cup of tea to chat with other stockholders (many were my age or older). Perhaps I would find a publisher for one of my books. I found very few who seemed technically literate, gazing glassy-eyed at the demo machines as if they had just stepped off a bus from 1960. IMHO, Microsoft does not seem to be addressing this “aging” issue very well — at least not here, but I’m not a good source of reference as I’m uber-technical, but more can be done.

Once in the meeting room, Microsoft showed the stockholders a few fairly pedestrian (by my standards) demos of the Nokia 950 and a HoloLens demo of Minecraft (which the voice-to-text operator called “Hollow Lens”). Again, the people around me seemed dazed. Perhaps this was the goal. CFO Amy Hood spouted off some pretty impressive revenue numbers and an optimistic outlook (which we were warned not to hold them to). What I didn’t see was a chart showing market penetration for the Windows phone vs. iOS and Android or of how XBox was competing with the other players in this game.

A point I would raise about Nadella’s speech — he listed Walmart as one of their large corporate partners (one of only four mentioned). Given Walmart’s reputation as a prime example of corporate welfare, I would suggest Microsoft distance themselves from them in corporate communications.

The Q&A


The real reason I attended was for the last forty-five minutes of Q&A. I sat in the second row behind the Reverend Jesse Jackson who spoke about diversity, followed by a question regarding hiring minorities of color (and women). Microsoft’s response had already been made in Nadella’s initial remarks in anticipation of Rev. Jackson’s concerns — Microsoft was hiring more minorities and women and two new (proposed) board members are women but agreed, more needed to be done. Rev. Jackson also hit another sensitive point — he wanted Microsoft and other major tech companies to repatriate the billions they kept overseas (implying to avoid taxes) to help economically disadvantaged ghettos (his word) throughout the country. I agree.

I was about to get up and join the lines of questioners, but I hesitated. Fred (my daughter), was in the back, and I didn’t want to embarrass her. Thankfully, someone else asked all of my questions:

“Why has Microsoft abandoned the (very popular) Windows Media Center application in Windows 10? Why isn’t there an equivalent system for end-users to record live TV?”

My question would have also asked, what makes Microsoft feel that it can invent something one year as ask developers and end-users to invest in it, only to abandon it two or three (or ten) years later once it’s become an integral part of their business or life? This same question could be asked of the Microsoft Reporting Services product which as far as I can tell is now “orphanware.” Their response was…well, not encouraging, suggesting Xbox One would solve this issue (somehow). Frankly, it doesn’t — its power pales in comparison to my dedicated DVR system with six tuners. I know some of the inside scoop here on WMC so I know it’s not going to be easy, but IMHO, it’s an investment Microsoft should make.

This same gentleman asked (and I paraphrase), “Why isn’t Microsoft doing more to get applications (he used the Starbucks app as an example) to run on the Windows Phone?” He suggested the primary reason people buy the iPhone or even an Android device is the applications. I agree. Microsoft’s response was basically “They (application developers) really ought to want to develop for Microsoft broad platform.” Okay sure. That’s easy to say, but decades after the phone game began, this strategy has not worked. For whatever reason, developers have chosen iOS (Apple’s operating system) over Windows as their first target. Why? iOS has more devices (by far). IMHO, Microsoft should be working on a way to run existing Apple Store applications on Windows.

My other question (and asked by someone else) was to ask what Microsoft was doing about the $52,000,000,000 (that’s fifty-two billion dollars) the company is keeping from its shareholders. Amy Hood said that they had increased the dividend (up 16%) and bought back stock to increase the share prices (which settled back to $52.22 after the meeting), but for investors (like me) who spent the Ballmer years sitting on stagnating stock, this seems inadequate.

And then the… well, more colorful individuals came to the microphone. There was the vociferous Chinese woman who showed up last year and returned with the same demand. She wanted a personal one-on-one meeting with Microsoft management to give her a seat on the board — she did not think Chinese interests were adequately represented. Apparently, they had her (in her words) “arrested and banned from the campus.” I thought the management team handled her very gracefully. And yes, they did cut off her microphone near the end. Microsoft’s replied there were Chinese Americans in (very) senior positions throughout the company. And there was another returning questioner who wanted Microsoft to appoint a blind person to the board. What Microsoft failed to mention is that there are several vision-impaired people working at the company and on the Accessibility team.

IMHO, what these people failed to understand is what the board does. I’ve sat in on board meetings of other companies. Yes, they consider issues like diversity, accessibility, and compliance with federal law, but most of the real work and world-shaping decisions are often made three levels below in the trenches. I was about to rise and lobby Microsoft to include a left-handed old guy with curly hair on the board, but then I realized they might choose me. I kept my seat.

Bill

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