When the world's most valuable company holds its annual meeting on Friday, the biggest question will be whether Apple shareholders get to grill top executives on their refusal to help the FBI break into an iPhone used by one of the killers in the San Bernardino attack.
The meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, could turn out to be a run-of-the-mill affair.
An agenda filed with the SEC shows that all board members, including Tim Cook and Al Gore, will be there, and shareholders will vote on proposals ranging from board reelection to limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Apple has stayed mum on whether there will be a general Q&A segment for shareholders, or whether Apple's board or Cook will address the FBI's investigation.
Analysts believe the subject will have to be addressed, however briefly.
"It's such a high-profile issue for Apple and the government, and the CEO has been the spokesperson for the company, so this is not a trivial thing," said Frank Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "I don't think they can do it and not acknowledge it."
What will be interesting, Gillett said, is whether shareholders view the issue in terms of its effect on Apple's stock price, or in moral terms — that is, what's the right thing for Apple to do.
"I can see it going either way," he said.
Gillett expects shareholders to also inquire about Apple's growth prospects, particularly in light of iPhone sales flatlining.
Shareholders will vote on several proposals. Four of them, from the company, have the board's backing. That includes the reelection of Apple's eight board members: Cook, Gore, James Bell, Bob Iger, Andrea Jung, Art Levinson, Ron Sugar and Sue Wagner.
The board opposes several proposals from shareholders, which ask among other things:
- That Apple issue a report to shareholders detailing the feasibility of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Apple’s board says that would duplicate existing public disclosures.
- That Apple accelerate its recruitment of more diverse senior executives and board members. Apple’s board does not include anyone who is Latino, African American or Native American, and its executive leadership includes predominantly white men. The board contends Apple is already taking sufficient steps to diversify and that the proposal is “unduly burdensome and not necessary."
- That Apple identify its criteria for investing and operating in “high-risk” regions — places with poor human rights records — such as Iran, Qatar, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. Apple says that would not be a productive use of the company’s resources.
The Times will be at Apple headquarters on Friday to cover the meeting.