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General Meeting digitalization and shareholder democracy

A tribune by Benoît Potier

The Institut du Capitalisme Responsable (Institute for Responsible Capitalism) takes a look back in a special magazine at the 2020 General Meetings season, which was unprecedented. An opportunity for Benoît Potier to review the challenges and opportunities that came up with the digitalization of this event, so important to the Group and shareholder democracy.

Tribune published in the Magazine des Rencontres du Capitalisme Responsable (Responsible Capitalism Meetings magazine), released on july 10 by the Institut du Capitalisme Responsable (Institute for Responsible Capitalism). Magazine available in French only.

The General Meeting is a major event for any company. Firstly, due to its regulatory nature, but also as it represents the key moment for shareholder democracy. It is a moment I am very fond of as an executive officer. Each year, the General Meeting provides an opportunity for sincere and genuine exchanges with our shareholders, and each year allows us to closely gage their expectations, their questions and share a collective vision of the Group's strategy and outlook.

The health context severely disrupted this key event this year. Certain General Meetings were postponed, others were held behind closed doors. This is the choice we made at Air Liquide. We were determined not to offer a second-class experience to our shareholders, or to forgo the dialog and proximity to which we are very attached and which is even more important in times of crisis. So, we reinvented this well-established event with the strong desire of enabling our shareholders to participate en masse, despite the social distancing measures in place. We were, of course, faced with certain legal and technical challenges due to the unprecedented nature of the situation, but I believe that this also allowed us to be bold and innovate even more than we would have done under normal circumstances.

We therefore adapted the format of the General Meeting to digital usages, in particular by reducing the length of the event. We also believed it was key to maintain the Q&A session and so we gave shareholders the opportunity to send us all their questions via a dedicated platform during the week leading up to the General Meeting. We can clearly say that the digital aspect did not hold them back! We received over 350 questions—much more than for a “standard” General Meeting—in which we recognized our shareholders' directness and their interest in a wide range of subjects, some of which highly technical, relating to our businesses. On the day of the General Meeting, I spent almost three quarters of an hour answering the most frequently asked questions. These questions were relayed by an independent journalist who played the role of spokesperson for our shareholders.

Our shareholders turned up in force, with more than 2,500 people joining the online event live. Which goes to show that digital solutions can be an excellent driver to develop and enrich shareholder democracy. Of course, I hope that this 2020 General Meeting remains unique in terms of format and look forward to being able to meet our shareholders in person once again very soon. Nothing can fully replace face-to-face discussions but I sincerely believe that this year's event has allowed us to test new waters and has opened up new prospects for shareholder democracy.

Benoît Potier,
Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide

Article published on July 10, 2020