When Volkswagen's 56th annual meeting began today, there were long lines outside the Hanover trade fair grounds as 3,000 shareholders waited patiently to be ushered through the dozen metal detectors dotting the entrance.
"They say it will be a long day," one of the numerous security guards said to his colleague as they watched investors stream through the gates on their way to the adjacent Hall 3, where vacant seats were a rarity.
VW officials already were preparing themselves for an acrimonious meeting that could drag on until late in the night. With the potential for conflict high, company representatives decided against the typical 15-minute tour by senior executives and directors around the various car models on display. "I don't think we'll even go through the front entrance," said a staffer working for one of the board members.
The meeting was shareholders' first opportunity to finally put management and board members on the spot. Until now opportunity to do so has been scarce. An extraordinary shareholder meeting planned for Nov. 9 to formally elect ex-finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch as new board chairman was called off. The original April 21 date of this year’s annual meeting was postponed – both due to the emissions scandal.
“We have to be done by midnight. Otherwise we have to send out another invitation,” said one official, worried the chance of a worst case scenario isn’t as small as other colleagues may think.
The main meeting hall was packed and hundreds more small shareholders with their retirement or rainy day funds parked in VW shares were milling around in Hall 2 snacking on the sausages with curried sauce produced at VW’s own butchery.
Christian Strenger, a professor and corporate governance expert from Frankfurt, was focused on his battle plan for the meeting and was consulting with one of his allies - an investor who preferred to remain anonymous when I spoke to him.
“We’re going to push for a special investigation under German securities law. The large shareholders will reject it and then we have to see about taking it then to court. It’s obvious that one is needed,” Strenger told me on the sidelines of the event.