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Let's say I open Robinhood right now and purchase 1 share of $MSFT. Does this mean I can now attend the next shareholder meeting in Redmond (or wherever they hold them) and cast my vote? Or do I need to own a large share of the company to make it happen?

Probably a naive question, but I couldn't find a good explanation of this online after a quick search.

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You only need one share to vote at an annual general meeting (AGM). But you get one vote per share, so don't expect that one vote to make any difference, when compared against the big investors.

Whether or not you'd get to vote at the next meeting may depend on whether you buy the share early enough to get the invite. Leave it too late, and the previous owner will already have got it.

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    You might get some free food, or maybe a snack anyway, out of the deal (in non-COVID times) from some companies. – Zach Lipton Feb 1 at 8:14
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    I believe you must also register your share under your name. Brokerages typically don't do that automatically, because most investors don't care, it takes extra admin procedures and requires them to transmit your name and address to some competent authority/company. Unless you do that, I don't think you will be invited to the shareholder meeting. Check with your broker for details. – LordOfThePigs Feb 1 at 9:20
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    Ages ago I heard that a German union had bought one share each in about 7,000 companies to have the right to attend a shareholder meeting if they thought it necessary. – gnasher729 Feb 1 at 10:57
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    @LordOfThePigs Normally if you want to vote your shares in person, the brokerage (as the registered owner) will issue you a proxy to vote "your" shares for them. This is normally easier than registering the shares under your name. – DanTilkin Feb 1 at 19:30
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    And it's important to also see the answer currently below by 7529 -- money.stackexchange.com/a/135797/63757 -- today, there are many different types of stock shares issued, and some of them may be entirely non-voting. – Mike M Feb 1 at 21:16
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You always have the right to vote your shares for the annual general meeting (AGM).

Whether you can attend the AGM in person is up to the individual company. Some will let you attend with a single share. Most will set some minimum number of shares you have to own to be allowed to attend in person (or else restrict attendees in some other way. You can only fit so many people in one ballroom).

The first one I found via google was this from Telefonica where they say you need to own at least 300 shares (~€1,000 worth) to attend the AGM in person.

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    I was going to ask if the usual custom is then that the "too small" shareholders need to have someone vote for them by proxy, but indeed the last paragraph of the linked article described just that. – ilkkachu Feb 2 at 17:01
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A company will have specific rules for attending meetings. Since you ask about MSFT, I found this (2015) example of their rules, which will be updated regularly to account for pandemics and such: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/789019/000120677415003229/microsoft_def14a.htm#ProofofOwnershipRequiredforAttendingMeetinginPerson

In order to be admitted to the Annual Meeting, you must present proof of ownership of Microsoft stock on the record date. This can be:

● a brokerage statement or letter from a bank or broker indicating ownership on October 2, 2015,

● the Notice of Internet Availability of Proxy Materials,

● a printout of the proxy distribution email (if you received your materials electronically),

● a proxy card,

● a voting instruction form, or

● a legal proxy provided by your broker, bank or nominee.

Shareholders and proxy holders must also present a form of photo identification such as a driver’s license.

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It depends on which stock you buy. Per your example, if you bought 1 share of MSFT prior to the record date, you would be entitled to one vote per nominee/proposal:

Shareholders as of the record date are entitled to vote. Each share of common stock of Microsoft Corporation (“Company”) is entitled to one vote for each director nominee and one vote for each of the proposals.

You would not have to attend the shareholder meeting in person. You could mail in the proxy ballot, vote by phone, or vote online.

If you bought a different company's stock, you might not be allowed to vote, especially if the company has different classes of stock. For example, Google (Alphabet) has 2 classes of stock that trade publically:

There are two ticker symbols for Alphabet Inc. on the NASDAQ stock exchange: GOOG and GOOGL.

The two tickers represent two different share classes: A (GOOGL) and C (GOOG).

There is, however, one crucial difference. A shares receive one vote, C shares receive no votes

So, if you want a vote at the shareholders meeting, buy the A shares.

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Shareholder activism

With one share you may have the right to vote. With one vote per share, that won't bring you very far.

More importantly: with one share (or a larger minimum, depending on policy) you may have the right to attend and speak at the meeting. You can try to convince others of issues you find important (of course they should be related to the business of the company involved). Exactly this strategy is followed by shareholder activists, which may be political activist groups for social or environmental change:

Some of the issues addressed by shareholder activists are for social change, requiring divestment from politically sensitive parts of the world, for example, greater support of workers' rights (sweatshops) and/or more accountability for environmental degradation.

Here is an article by Greenpeace calling on people to use shareholder activism to hold corporations to account:

And if you do have shares in fossil fuel companies, use your voice as a shareholder and be an activist in the boardroom! Greenpeace is working with shareholder activists all over the world to turn their voices into megaphones.

This is just an example; issues raised by shareholder activists can be many. You may need more than one share, but for larger political groups, investing €1000 (or whatever the minimum is) in Shell or Exxon in order to get the right to speak at their shareholder meeting is an entirely realistic prospect.

Of course, whether such shareholder activism is actually effective is a different question altogether, and beyond the scope of this question (and probably off-topic on Money SE).

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    You only have a "right" to speak if the chair of the meeting permits you to do so, and the function of the chair is to conduct the legal business of the meeting, not to run a town hall question and answer session. – alephzero Feb 1 at 15:40
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    @alephzero Sure. Plenty of companies claim corporate responsibility, so speaking on that should be part of the legal business of the meeting. Same for "proposal for more sustainable steel production" or "proposal for stronger checking of working conditions in suppliers". I suppose some may still try to keep shareholder activists from speaking, but I hope they'd need a reason to do so and can't simply pick who gets to speak or not arbitrarily (or the right to speak would be effectively meaningless). – gerrit Feb 1 at 16:04
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    @gerrit I've own some Disney stock for decades, and they claim to be a "responsible" company (and the probably are better than many businesses of their size). But there are always responsibility-related shareholder proposals on the proxy statement that management recommends votes against, and I don't think they ever pass (since management owns a controlling amount of the stock). Proposing and voting for them seems mostly symbolic, kind of like voting for a 3rd-party candidate in an election. – Barmar Feb 1 at 16:21
  • @Barmar I have no information on how effective shareholder activism is. It may well be that the only effect of shareholder activism is to generate publicity for the activist. But I suspect that, just like with petitions, if management senses a proposal has a high risk of passing, management passes it themselves and takes the credit rather than risking the embarrassment of losing a vote at a meeting. Either way, whether or not it's effective is beyond the scope of the question. I've added a paragraph to the answer noting this. – gerrit Feb 1 at 16:28
  • I recall this being the mechanism for resolution of the plot conflict in an Adam Sandler movie... – Dan Henderson Feb 3 at 20:39

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