BELLEVUE, Wash. — Microsoft held its annual shareholders’ meeting Tuesday and notably not at the top of the agenda for many in the audience was a preview of what products the software giant is going to ship during the current fiscal year.
Instead, the question of the moment appeared to be, why is the stock price still stuck in the doldrums?
The annual event always elicits a complainer or two, but one disaffected retiree’s complaint drew a round of applause from the audience.
“[We’re] disappointed with the stock price … the income [from dividends] has been a pittance,” the retiree said.
Then, another stockholder asked a more difficult question. “Is it time to break up the company?”
The suggestion was met with firm resistance, with CEO Steve Ballmer leading the way, and chairman Bill Gates sitting at his side.
“I don’t think there are many synergies [in divesting],” Ballmer told the shareholder.
Ballmer had earlier pointed out to the audience that Microsoft just turned in another record quarter, and also pointed out that the latest versions of two of the companies’ cash cows, Windows 7 and Office, have both resulted in record sales.
“In its first three months, Office 2010 is already our best selling [version] yet,” Ballmer said. He also pointed out that Windows 7 sold 240 million licenses in its first year on the market.
However, despite record quarter after record quarter, the stock has hovered in the high $20s to $30s since a stock split in 2002.
It’s not the first time in recent years that questions like that have come up. It’s notable, however, that the tension in the room was palpable — which is unusual for a Microsoft shareholders meeting.
Ballmer also talked about the company’s investments in cloud computing, which Microsoft executives — as well as much of the technology industry — view as the computing platform of the future.
In addition, he bragged that Microsoft’s new Kinect controllerless game console controllersold a million units in its first 10 days on the market.
Ballmer also heavily promoted the newly-launched Windows Phone 7, though he didn’t give any sales numbers, even though the phones began general availabilitylast Monday.
In other business, the stockholders elected the board of directors as recommended, ratified Deloitte & Touche LLP as the company’s auditors, and rejected a shareholder proposal to create a board committee on “environmental sustainability.”