There was one moment at Walmart's shareholders meeting Friday that perhaps best captured the tension between the image the company tries to project and the criticisms its detractors level against it.
That moment involved Robin Thicke.
The pop star came onstage immediately after Walmart execs faced some tough proposals from representatives of shareholder groups, seeking big reforms to the way the retail giant is managed.
At the three-hour-plus meeting, held in Walmart's backyard in Fayetteville, Ark. shareholders got a short window to offer criticism of the company via proposals. They offered three: That Walmart elect an independent chairman -- its current chairman is Rob Walton, son of founder Sam Walton. That the company disclose whether it’s clawed back any pay from executives involved in actions that exposed the company to harm, a proposal prompted by allegations that Walmart engaged in bribery in Mexico. And that Walmart disclose where its lobbying dollars go.
None of the proposals passed. Given that the Waltons control more than 50 percent of Walmart's outstanding shares, it's impossible for a proposal to pass without their support. Jeffrey Gearhart, Walmart’s executive vice president for global governance, referred shareholders to Walmart’s public filings for its response to the proposals.
“Walmart truly appreciates your engagement and your interest in our company,” Gearhart said after the last presenter finished up. “Now I get to do something I’ve never gotten to do before at a shareholder’s meeting, that’s introduce one of the entertainers and they told me if I do it wrong, I won’t get to do it again.”
Cue Robin Thicke, who later performed his controversial hit "Blurred Lines" along with Pharrell.
Brooke Buchanan, a company spokeswoman, said that watchers shouldn't "look too far into" the transition, given that for the past several years Walmart has interspersed entertainers with company presentations at its shareholder meetings.
"This is what we've done for many years where we have entertainment for our associates throughout the meeting," she said.
Still, the moment exemplified the larger conversation surrounding Walmart leading up to its annual meeting/pep rally. Like in past years, associates, executives and shareholders in attendance were treated to celebrity performances interspersed with a heavy dose of Walmart PR delivered via speeches by the company's management team and tributes to outstanding workers.
But in the days leading up to the meeting and shortly after it ended, activists and workers took to the streets decrying the company’s low-pay. In addition, corporate governance groups urged shareholders to vote against the company’s executive compensation proposals and some of the directors.
They'll try again next year. Meanwhile, here's Thicke playing 'Blurred Lines," courtesy of YouTube: