Individual investors like you and I may have a secret weapon sitting right in front of us, right this moment.
For all the bandwidth it squanders on kitten videos or scandals du jour, the Internet retains vast power to reshape the world and rise up against unreasonable power. That applies equally well whether the revolution's taking place among the citizens of the Middle East or the shareholders of Corporate America.
Another kind of "linked in"
New York Times writer Gretchen Morgenson recently pointed out that the Internet empowers individual investors who, for too long, felt helpless when they disagreed with their companies' policies.
Morgenson referred specifically to Celgene
O'Donnell formed a site dedicated to communicating with other Celgene shareholders concerned with the company's disconnect between executive pay and performance. He managed to connect with and inspire shareholders representing 2.7 million shares, who were willing to vote against the pay plan at Celgene. This cabal also agreed to reject management's recommendation and vote for annual say-on-pay votes, rather than votes once every three years.
Although 2.7 million of Celgene's 461 million shares outstanding obviously don't represent a majority, this united front of shareholders could at least make an impression with Celgene's top brass, and generate attention for the views of a significant number of shareholders.
Shareholders versus status quo
If the Internet's helping increasing numbers of shareholders realize that they have more power than they think, this change of heart is happening right in the nick of time. CEO compensation continues to rise, even while the U.S. economy at large staggers along.
Just today, GovernanceMetrics International joined the chorus of voices pointing out that somehow, CEOs are awash in cash, when most other U.S. workers are not. Its new report indicates that in 2010, annual CEO compensation increased 18% at the median, while total realized compensation surged about 28% at the median.
The highest-paid CEOs listed in GovernanceMetrics' report included Walt Disney's
Last week on Fool.com, several of us writers argued that some CEOs are just not worth the huge pay packages and perks they receive. We highlighted several companies that GovernanceMetrics has flagged as particular concerns, including Adobe and Morgan Stanley.
High-speed Internet future
O'Donnell's rallying of dissatisfied Celgene shareholders online shows what one can accomplish with the Internet's power to connect people and information. When you feel like you're the only one who's unhappy, the easiest path is to stay quiet and do nothing. When you realize you're not alone in your displeasure, it's far easier to start making plans and taking action.
Here's to a high-speed Internet future for shareholder democracy. Who's in for even more shareholder revolutions in 2012?
Check back at Fool.com every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on environmental, social, and governance issues.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. For more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.