One share is enough

Compliance, adherence and acquiescence are beefy words often used in relation to rules. Built into each of those words is a sense of resistance and belligerence – as if those rules, ideally, should be more honoured in the breach than the observance. Rarely is this linguistic and attitudinal inflection more manifest than in parts of the City, where the efforts of many minds are focused on the finding of marginal advantage in a competitive world.

Transparency is as inexorable as the yielding of sandcastles to the sea. The truth will always out, and those businesses that seek to conceal the truth will never ultimately succeed.

The Streisand Effect describes how efforts to suppress information, especially online, can lead to a contrary outcome.

Barbra Streisand ‘donated’ her name to the effect in 2003, when she sued an online photographic archive in California because its pictures included aerial images of her Malibu mansion, constituting what she argued, reasonably enough, was an invasion of her privacy.

The liberal Internet felt otherwise, however. Cue a potent combination of voyeurism and outrage. As links were shared, huge numbers saw the pictures of Streisand’s house: far more than would otherwise have bothered.

By the time the suit was thrown out of court, Streisand’s privacy had been invaded far more than it would have been had she and her lawyers not pursued her claim.

There was a reminder yesterday, from a savvy correspondent, that the way to avoid exclusion from AGMs or EGMs of public companies, is to become a shareholder. By simply buying one share, often less than the cost of a latte, you guarantee yourself all the statutory information and invitations sent to investors. It is your open underscore sesame password to the stadium.

Some companies, over the years, have attempted to exclude journalists from shareholder meetings for fear of scrutiny. They are entitled to do so, but Ill-advised to. By doing so, they might create an eye in whatever hurricane they are in, but outside the room the scrutiny persists – and if anything, becomes more and more intense.

I wonder whether companies that are committed to transparency and good governance might consider giving correspondents that report on them a share each to enshrine transparency. They’re not obliged to, nor are they invited to do so, but a share is a symbol of transparency. A single share, for the most part, will cost little more than the prawn sandwich that might accompany a meeting, so it is hardly a bribe. It’s a gesture of good faith and openness and in a world that demands transparency it might be worth considering.

Fundamentally, the world is awash with clashing and unreconciled narratives. Experience tells us that by far the best way to reconcile conflicting imperatives is to sanitise them with sunlight. Frustrations only fester and grow. A good advisor will always help to find opportunity in adversity. Ethics and transparency in business are paramount. There is no sustainable place in commerce for duplicity.