Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
Evelyn Y. Davis is the world's most famous shareholder activist. She's also the most outspoken, the most outrageous, the most intelligent, the most confident, the most charming.
Evelyn Y. Davis, on April 1, 2009, got a chance to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and, in her usual fashion, took the opportunity to blows kisses to the crowd on the exchange floor.
2009 Associated Press File
Just ask her.
"There's no other shareholder like me!" she declared in a recent interview. "There's no other woman like me!"
For decades, Mrs. Davis has been buying stock in big companies for the primary reason, it seems, of attending their annual meetings and turning them into her personal stage.
Simultaneously brash and flirty, she heckles CEOs, remarks on their handsomeness, yells at other shareholders and proclaims that she knows more than anyone else in the room.
So there was something missing this year when Mrs. Davis didn't show up at any company's annual meeting. Not Bank of America. Not US Airways. Not Ford or Goldman Sachs or any of the dozens she usually attends.
Age has finally made her do what the most powerful CEOs in America couldn't: Give it a rest.
"I'm not so young anymore," said Mrs. Davis, 82.
This is the first year she won't publish "Highlights and Lowlights," the newsletter in which since 1965 she has reported on company meetings and how she was treated at them, which reporters gave her the most coverage and anything else on her mind.
She peddles it for $600 a copy, minimum two copies, to the same CEOs she harangues.
Never one to doubt her own grandeur, she is fond of introducing herself as queen of the corporate jungle. And the meetings this year, without her? "It must have been awfully dull," she said.
The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Macy's and Saks agreed that Mrs. Davis brings entertainment value to shareholder meetings - comments they made to The Associated Press after she called and asked them to.
"Annual meetings are never boring when Evelyn Davis is on the scene," JPMorgan's CEO, Jamie Dimon, said in a statement.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who has often found himself on the receiving end of an Evelyn Y. Davis tongue-lashing, presided over a calmer, quicker meeting this spring.
"Our annual meeting this year was shorter with less drama," Blankfein said in a statement to the AP. "Without Evelyn, it just wasn't the same."
Other shareholders have varying reactions to her antic. Some applaud, some laugh, others jeer. To some of them, Mrs. Davis is a champion of shareholder rights. To others, she's annoying, even mean.
While some investors are scared to confront powerful executives, she is anything but. She asks pointed questions and sometimes tells them they should resign in shame.
She advocates for lower CEO pay, term limits for board members and more disclosure on companies' political spending - issues dear to most shareholder advocates.
Tact, however, is not her strong point.
She interrupts everyone, sitting at the front and yelling out questions that often have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. She tells other speakers they don't know what they're talking about. She implies that the best-looking male CEOs are in love with her.
"I have power over the most important men in the country," she said. "That's pretty good if you can get it, right?"
Last month, she watched on TV as Dimon testified to Congress about an unexpected trading loss at JPMorgan. She called him afterward to tell him how gorgeous he had looked.