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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Marks & Spencer on Tuesday said it has no plans to return to physical shareholder meetings, as it confirmed that next month's annual general meeting (AGM) will be a virtual event for the third year running.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the 138-year-old clothing and food retailer's AGMs in 2020 and 2021 were fully online but there are no restrictions this year. Nevertheless, M&S is keeping it virtual for the July 5 meeting, saying they are better attended than physical events.
It said private shareholder engagement increased from 561 at the last physical meeting in 2019 to 1,511 at the first fully digital meeting in 2020 and 1,664 last year.
"We are therefore confident that our approach to a digitally enabled AGM is far more accessible, engaging and democratic," M&S's general counsel and company secretary Nick Folland said in a letter to M&S shareholders contained in its annual report.
He advised shareholders not to travel to the venue on the day, saying: "Board members will not be available for interaction with shareholders in person. ...Refreshments will not be provided."
While M&S's move may be positive for investor democracy it could upset traditionalists and will diminish the opportunity for corporate drama, such as at the 2019 meeting when then CEO Steve Rowe called out "the worst availability in casual trousers I've seen in my life." Two days later he sacked M&S's clothing boss.
The annual report showed Rowe, who stepped down as CEO last week after six years in the job, received total pay of 2.6 million pounds ($3.3 million) in 2021-22, including a 1.6 million pound bonus. Rowe was succeeded as CEO by food boss Stuart Machin.
($1 = 0.7990 pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Porter)