The marquee — if that is the right word to describe the massive enclosed structure erected to accommodate the nearly 5,000 shareholders at last Wednesday’s special AGM of the Glanbia group at Gorwan park racecourse in Kilkenny — was by its sheer size and complex engineering a testament to seriousness of the event that it was designed to witness.
It was a cavernous space divided into three separate halls which, irregardless of last Wednesday’s result — a vote in favour of reducing the co-op’s shareholding in the PLC business of Glanbia to under 50% thus, in effect, creating two separate business entities, a co-op and a PLC — will in effect disappear early in 2013 leaving no trace of its existence.
Once you entered, you were immediately in what could pass for the check-in hall at an airport. Terminal type desks ran down the full length of long axis of the building where you tendered your credentials as a shareholder along with in my case my drivers licence for identification. Once tagged with a wrist band, you could proceed further.
The second or middle enclosure was the largest of the three internal divisions and featured a large stage with a long table and attending chairs. Elevated and centred on the middle of the back wall it supported huge television displays angled for viewing by those further down the hall.
Most striking, however, were the thousands of blue-backed chairs which were divided into large blocks that covered the entire floor area with walkways between. I crossed this sea of blue towards the space behind the stage which held the refreshment canteens with the odd feeling that if the chairs had been red instead of blue I could have been at a function organised by the Chinese communist party in Peking. Speeches from the floor would, however, reflect anything but one party one voice.
The canteen area, which was similar in size to the arrivals hall, was — even allowing for the fact I had arrived early — thronged. The scores of single pedestal circular tables were where knots of farmers conversed as they rummaged in the paper bags which contained a bottle of water, an apple and a filled bread roll which they had acquired free from the various canteen hatchways located on the long back wall. There were further television screens on the opposite wall, where those not wishing to sit in the main hall could observe and listen to proceedings.
In due course we were all called to attend our seats as the main business began. Speeches and contributions concluded, the announcer declared voting on the future of one of Ireland’s largest companies/co-op’s open.
Gradually all there, some 60% of the total number of shareholders, made their way back through the “arrivals gates” in the first hall to the simple voting booths with their attending ballot boxes.
Sometime after four o’clock the result was announced, but with those at the top table almost skipping up the steps to the stage to resume their positions, it was obvious the top table had what they needed — a majority above the 75% needed to proceed to a final vote on Dec 12.
The figures showed 81.8% of the general share holders approving of dividing the company and taking a PLC share bonus worth in the region of €163m. A second vote of just milk suppliers also requiring a 75% minimum approval returned a figure of 77% in favour.
While there is a feeling that the co-op movement in this area may have succumbed to inevitable progress in that temporarily massively enclosed space, there is nothing to say that in the future it will not be the permanence of farmers with their land, produce and co-op that may appear far more attractive to the next generation of businessmen, maybe even the Chinese.
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