Microsoft’s leadership team is used to leading from the front, embracing technological innovations to transform consumer behavior. The same is true of the firm’s governance team, which is always looking for new ways to enhance the relationship between the company and its shareholders.
But how much of this is due to technology being embedded in the company’s DNA? ‘We don’t sit down and think about how to use more technology,’ explains John Seethoff, Microsoft’s vice president, deputy general counsel and corporate secretary. ‘We ask ourselves what the pain points are and where we can do things better. One of the avenues for finding a solution is often technology.’
For Seethoff, technology has enabled what he calls ‘one-to-many communication’, which is particularly helpful when trying to keep Microsoft’s 3.5 million shareholders up to date.
Seethoff can now use social media, custom-made websites, virtual meetings, video interviews and cloud technology to stay in touch with shareholders. ‘We want to use these tools to have a regular rhythm of constructive conversations with our shareholders,’ he says.
While many governance professionals – and other executives – approach social media and blogging with some trepidation, Microsoft’s team pushes ahead with it: the team’s On The Issues blog is regularly updated with governance articles, news and features, supported by two Twitter accounts that drive traffic to the blog.
In addition, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, posts regularly on his personal Twitter account and Seethoff posts on LinkedIn.
Microsoft also recently launched a director video series, in which board members participate in an unscripted 10-15 minute Q&A session. Microsoft’s internal communications team had put together a video interview with former board member Maria Klawe, who is also a computer scientist, to send to Microsoft engineers internally.
Seethoff was asked to review the finished video, to ensure there were no governance issues. ‘That’s when the light bulb came on,’ he says. ‘We decided to make it part of our governance website and we’ve been very pleased with the reception it’s had.’ The most recent video had more than 95,000 views in the first two weeks it was posted.
Microsoft has also worked to transform its proxy statement – by building an interactive proxy website for investors – and its shareholder meetings, which are now available in person, virtually, as a recording or as a transcript.
‘Technology enables us to be open and transparent,’ Seethoff says. ‘We can create more effective direct communications, and that in turn builds trust.’