The Treasurer’s Staff was extremely involved with the shareholder annual meetings, which at the time were held at the Fisher Theater. There was a dais set up in front of the drawn-shut stage curtain. Roger Smith and a handful of senior officers sat at the white-skirted table, and shareholders sat in the theater audience section. What they couldn’t see was that the table in front of the senior officers had cutouts in front of each chair, into which were sunk computer screens which were hard-wired to computers in back of the curtain. The computers were loaded with all sorts of facts about the company, and each was manned by one of the many fresh-faced MBA’s back stage, whose job it was bring up data so the officers could surreptitiously read off facts and figures from the hidden computer screens. There were runners who went up and down the aisles, picking up questions written on index cards from shareholders. The questions were delivered quietly backstage before they were read aloud by the MC, so the answers were on the officers’ screens before the question was read. And there were fresh-faced MBA “plants” who sat strategically close to known trouble-makers, and who would submit cards to the runners not with questions, but with information about the conversations overheard and/or notes written.
The “known trouble-makers” were corporate gadflies that were famous for attending shareholder meetings: there were never many neophyte complainers that made it to the annual meetings. You see, there was this 3” or 4” binder that contained information on shareholders that threatened to come just to complain about their shoddy cars or bad dealership experiences. GM collected dossiers on these shareholders: name, address, picture, occupation, issue – as full a dossier as could be collected. Mostly they were placated, AKA bought off, with a new car or some other remedy, to entice them to not make the trip to Detroit. It was a very effective strategy: my lesson learned was that, played very sparingly, going to the top normally got remarkably good results. I did it once with Comcast: after eighteen months of getting nowhere with the local repairmen, I called Corporate headquarters and asked to speak to the Vice President of Public Relations. Of course my call didn’t go through, but a staffer called me back rather promptly. The next thing I knew, I had a two-man crew out for eight hours. They didn’t bother to figure out exactly what was wrong – they simply replaced everything – EVERYTHING – from the outside junction multi-home junction box to my junction box and everything inside. And a local supervisor called me and gave me her personal number, in case anything went wrong again. Amazing how that works.
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