On one hand, the concentration of share ownership has addressed some of the issues connected to the separation of ownership and control. On the other hand, there are still intermediaries between the beneficial holders and the companies whose stock is held on their behalf. This is all the more reason for a strong, enforceable fiduciary obligation on all aspects of share ownership, including proxy voting.
The tiny group of analysts—BlackRock has around 18,400 employees all told—looks after the interests of investors in the firm’s $4.6 trillion worth of passive funds.
That means weighing in on matters as varied as executive compensation, climate change and abortion access. Chief executives jockey for time on analysts’ calendars. They have the power to unseat directors and upend corporate decision-making. The team last year engaged with 2,300 companies via emails, phone calls and meetings and ultimately voted on 165,000 proposals at 17,000 shareholder meetings.
“It can feel like a lot of power sometimes,” said a former investment stewardship team analyst. The surging popularity of index funds has made their managers the largest shareholders in many public companies. That is especially true of BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor with some $10 trillion under management. The amount of equity the firm manages for passive investors has more than tripled over the past decade.
BlackRock’s growth and the way it has sought to wield its influence has rankled corporate executives, particularly those in the oil-and-gas industry. BlackRock’s stewardship team voted in favor of 47% of environmental and social shareholder proposals last year. Its support helped an activist investor win board seats at oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp.
“We have a new bunch of emperors, and they’re the people who vote the shares in the index funds,” Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Warren Buffett’s business partner, said earlier this year.The 70 BlackRock Analysts Who Speak for Millions of Shareholders – WSJ