Here's what it's like to attend Amazon's secretive shareholder meeting

Here's what it's like to attend Amazon's secretive shareholder meeting
PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI, TAIWAN - Retail giant Amazon doesn't just own the largest online bookstore in the world, it's also the world's dominant cloud service provider, ahead of powerful rivals Microsoft and Google.

It also leads the way in e-commerce innovation - last year, in its bid to again fundamentally change the way we shop - Amazon opened an automated cashier-free store.

This year will mark 20 years since Amazon became a publicly listed company on May 15, 1997.

In those two decades, its stock prices have risen a staggering 500-fold.

Amazon is also known as one of the most secretive companies in the world.

To this day, no video or audio recordings of its shareholder meetings have ever been leaked.

Second Richest Man in the World

On May 13, a reporter with the Chinese-language Business Today - a partner publication of The China Post - gained exclusive entry to one of its shareholder meetings. The following account is based on the Business Today report.

Dressed in a white shirt, a black blazer and snug dark gray trousers, founder Jeff Bezos stepped onto the stage.

His answers of shareholders' questions were punctuated by eruptions of exuberant laughter.

He had good reason to be happy. Last year was a terrific one for Amazon.

The firm's revenue surpassed US$136 billion with 27 per cent growth year over year, and its net profit was US$2.37 billion - a year-on-year rise of 298 per cent.

Amazon's share price has soared along with its financials, doubling in less than two years.

The Internet superstore hit a new milestone last month when its stock price hit US$1,000 for the first time, ahead of even social media behemoth Facebook.

Bezos was recently been named by Bloomberg as the world's second richest person, having leapt past Zara owner Amancio Ortega and investor Warren Buffet.

Heavily Guarded

The Business Today reporter observed how shareholders accessed the meeting. Environmentalists and union members protested outside one exit of the building where the meeting was held, while shareholders lined up under the blazing sun to make their way into a white tent. Inside were two inspection gates they had to clear to enter the meeting.

The security personnel manning the checks took special care to ensure no potential attendees were concealing cameras or other recording devices.

Any information, as harmless as it might seem, could be exploited by competitors, Bezos said.

Brian Olsavsky, the company's chief financial officer, was the first to appear onstage to address shareholders. He said he would give a brief presentation of the company's financials before Bezos answered the attendees' questions.

Olsavsky said the company had aggressively expanded its core services in the past year, boosting its cash flow by 38 per cent to US$16.4 billion.

This improvement was largely contributed by technological advances in Amazon's products, including the AI-powered, voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa, the Kindle e-book and the Alexa-equipped Amazon Echo, he said.

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