Coverage: Davis, the scourge of CEOs, dies at 89
Evelyn Y. Davis, the well-known corporate gadfly who attended company annual meetings to ask embarrassing questions to chief executive officers over the past three decades, has died at the age of 89.
Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times had the news:
At corporate annual meetings back in the 1980s and 1990s, there came a point dreaded by CEOs, shareholders in the audience, and not a few business reporters sentenced by their editors to attend (for our sins).
It was the point when the floor was thrown open for comments from individual shareholders—and almost immediately seized by a diminutive woman of a certain age with a flinty, penetrating voice colored by an accent held over from her native Dutch. She invariably introduced herself as “Evelyn Y. Davis, publisher of ‘Highlights and Lowlights of Corporate Annual Meetings’” before launching into a harangue aimed directly at the (invariably male) CEOs and chairmen shifting uneasily in their chairs on stage.
In that era, Evelyn Y. Davis needed no introduction. She made appearances on CNBC and the Larry King program, and on at least one occasion brought the gavel down from the podium of the New York Stock Exchange. She passed away Sunday at the age of 89.
Harrison Smith of The Washington Post noted some of her best quips:
Wearing hot pants or stripping down to a swimsuit to attract attention, she berated chief executives such as Lee Iacocca of Chrysler (he needed to lose weight, she said) or Frank Blake of Home Depot (“a phony”). “Institutional investors get treated like royalty,” she proclaimed, “individual investors like peasants.”
Mrs. Davis, who championed transparency in corporate governance, boardroom accountability, reduced compensation for chief executives and, she acknowledged, her own public image as the self-anointed “queen of the corporate jungle,” died Nov. 4 at a hospital in Washington. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed by John DeBord, a consultant representing the trustees for her estate. He said that the cause was not yet known but that Mrs. Davis had recently moved from her longtime home at the Watergate complex into an assisted-living community in Washington.
While annual shareholder meetings are typically staid affairs in which stockholders, executives and board members discuss and vote on company issues, the presence of Mrs. Davis could turn them into something close to a circus act.
Laurence Arnold of Bloomberg News reported that she pressed companies on serious issues:
Though known as a gadfly, Davis spent decades pressing serious governance issues, advocating term limits for corporate directors, greater disclosure of executive compensation, independence of accountants and scrutiny of legal bills.
With a nest egg from her neurologist father, plus income from her quirky annual newsletter, “Highlights and Lowlights of Annual Meetings,” she maintained investments of at least $2,000 — the threshold to offer resolutions — in 80 to 120 companies at any time, and attended as many as 50 meetings a year. In her thick Dutch accent, she held forth at the microphone as chief executives and chairmen had no choice but to listen.
“You can see I’m in control at these meetings, and I really want to be,” Davis, whose four marriages ended in divorce, was quoted as saying in a 2002 Vanity Fair article. “I enjoy having power over men.”
At a CBS Inc. shareholder meeting in 1995, Davis cheered the imminent buyout by Westinghouse Electric Corp. “Finally we are being liberated from the Tisch regime,” she declared, taunting outgoing CBS Chairman Laurence A. Tisch, who told her, “Sit down or be thrown out.”