The Beloved AGM...
Head of Leasehold and Estate Management, Will Parrick looks at the AGM....
A large part of the job of the Leasehold & Estate Manager is attending meetings. Among the numerous meetings we attend are the all-important Annual General Meetings for Residential Management Companies, Freehold Companies and Right-to-Manage Companies. Here at Boydens’ Leasehold & Estate Management, the range of meetings you can expect to attend is as eclectic as our portfolio itself. Venues ranging from the Boydens meeting room, to village halls, to city-centre church halls, to pubs (a favourite), to residents’ own properties. The attendance can differ from two or three shareholders to over thirty. They can last from twenty minutes (a record!) to over two hours. In order to weather such a variety over the course of a year, one must have their wits about them.
Being someone who enjoys a good chat, I do like a good meeting. I am also always looking for self-improvement so thought I’d have a trawl through the numerous helpful business advice sites out there and see how the internet would suggest running an efficient meeting. From the many pages I visited, I distilled a list of nine common ‘top tips’ and matched these against how I would run an AGM for an RMC, to see how I measure up:
Be Prepared / Have an Agenda
A popular point on the majority of advice pages, this is an unsurprising opening shot. As a veteran of many meetings, this one seems rather obvious. The benefits of structuring your meeting with an agenda are obvious and this is a principal we strictly adhere to. All our AGMs have agendas sent out along with relevant attachments (such as the previous meetings’ minutes) in plenty of time for shareholders to look through in advance.
Most of our AGMs follow a set agenda dealing with prescribed company business. The agenda will detail standard points such as approval of accountants, the voting in of Directors, and the Managing Agents’ report before eventually getting to everyone’s favourite item: Any Other Business. We do ask that shareholders submit their ‘other business’ in advance of the meeting, but in practice it would be foolish to strictly adhere to this. After all, this is often the one time of the year that the property owners get together and one must bear in mind that this is the best attended face-to-face forum with our clients / customers. The most should be made of the chance to hear what people have to say. It is a great opportunity for us as property managers to obtain the opinion of shareholders on a huge variety of topics. There are plenty of shareholders who understand this and will come armed accordingly…
Establish the Meeting’s Purpose / Do you NEED a Meeting?
The next reoccurring piece of advice makes two points, one that follows on from the other: make sure you establish the purpose of the meeting and in doing so ensure that you actually need a meeting in the first place. The latter half of this is simple to answer in the context of the Management Company AGM: yes, it is best practice for you to have the meeting. The former part is less straight forward. The purpose of the meeting is technically to discuss the Management Company’s previous full year period including the accounts and any significant issues that occurred. However, as mentioned above, this may be the only time the property owners are together and so it would be counterproductive to stop the attendees from discussing current and future issues as well as those of the period past. Most of this will take place in everyone’s favourite agenda item: Any Other Business.
Consider Who Is Invited / Check the Attendees
This is largely straightforward – Boydens will send the invites out on behalf of our Clients to all shareholders in the Company, giving plenty of notice for potential attendees to mark the dates in their diaries. We will compile a list of expected attendees in advance. If the truth be told, there are ALWAYS those who say they will turn up and don’t; and those who just turn up without warning!
Stick to the Clock / Timings
Whilst this piece of advice is relevant for most meetings, timings at AGMs can be erratic. If it has been a quiet year, it is possible to sail through the agenda, even with a large attendance.
On the other hand it might be necessary to keep an eye on the clock if you have particularly talkative attendees and have only booked the hall for two hours. Or it may just be time to wrap things up for the good of everyone’s wellbeing. I clearly remember one occasion when a shareholder broached a particularly contentious subject at 9:50pm, for example.
Stay on Topic / Avoid Side Conversations
This is absolutely essential advice to ensure the AGM doesn’t break down into a number of smaller meetings, or just people having a chat. There will be (hopefully) plenty of time for that when the meeting has finished. Side conversations can be distracting for those sitting in the vicinity as well as the culprits themselves and also can be a real inconvenience for people who may be hard of hearing. It is important for the benefit of everyone (and your own sanity) that without being rude you try to keep the attendees focused on what is actually supposed to be discussed at that point in the agenda. Although it can be frustrating for someone desperate to make a point, it is important to stay on topic as much as possible in order to keep the structure of the meeting, ensure it doesn’t go on for too long and avoid it breaking down into a free-for-all. As conversations get diverted into new territory, an oft-used expression is “we can discuss this in Any Other Business”.
It is also worth remembering that an AGM is for discussing company-wide business. A property manager should (again tactfully and politely) avoid discussions that focus on issues only affecting individual shareholders. In my experience most people will be happy to have a quick chat with you after the meeting.
Encourage Contributions / Encourage Open Discussions
This is not usually a problem at your average AGM. Often, if someone has turned up to an AGM, it is because they have something to say and they will not be shy in saying it! Of course, I welcome such contributions. One of the best ways we can improve our services for our Clients is to have feedback. In fact, it is pretty unnerving to chair an AGM where attendees don’t have much to say… although when this does happen it often means that you’ve been getting things right for the past year!
Make Notes / Take Minutes
This is absolutely essential. In fact, it is an inarguable requirement. Luckily we are always ready to minute our AGMs and will ensure that the minutes are sent out to shareholders in good time too. Our key performance indicator is to have draft minutes sent to the Directors for approval within five working days of the meeting. After all, it is imperative to have clear notes made of all that Any Other Business.
Be Clear on Actions and Who Will Carry These Out
As much as this is wise advice for most meetings, it is another item that is far more straightforward at our AGMs. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time it will be your property manager who will be carrying out any actions. It is however advisable for the property manager to make sure they are clear on what actions are going to be carried out in order to avoid confusion, disappointment or inactivity when there was expectation of action!
Follow-up to the AGM is key to making the meeting worthwhile. Your property manager will have put together a “to-do” list based on the items discussed and ensure that this is worked through. Some actions will be more obvious than others when they are completed (the remarking of a car park for example) and others will require plenty more correspondence with shareholders when actioned (such as Notices as part of a Section 20 process). One thing you can be sure of is that the items will receive attention. It is a foolhardy property manager who does not, as they will undoubtedly be held to task when it next comes to approving the previous minutes at the next AGM!
On the whole, your classic Management Company AGM should not be viewed as a chore by shareholders or property managers, but as a useful tool; an opportunity to discuss burning issues face-to-face and (hopefully) reach a consensus on action. As I said earlier, I always enjoy a good meeting. I would actively encourage anyone who owns a property with an affiliated Management Company to always attend their AGM. Take your chance to influence the matters relevant to your invest or home!
As part of our Management Fee, Boydens will arrange your AGM, send out invites, attend, minute and chair your meeting. We also have meeting facilities in our Head Office that can be utilised by our Clients at no extra cost (depending on numbers). If you would like to discuss the services we could offer your site please get in touch.