22 APR 10: Makers, Takers, No Earth-Shakers
Dawson, Georgia will have its annual "tour of homes" a week from Saturday. In Columbus, the annual "tour of corporations" began Wednesday. Three big local companies have their shareholders' meetings in a two-week span. Is it simply coincidence that all three follow the income tax filing deadline?
BLOG EXCLUSIVE: As we were first to report Wednesday morning, TSYS Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Philip Tomlinson had breaking news at his company's shareholders meeting -- a new bank signing. Bridgewater Bank based in Calgary, Canada is now a TSYS client. Perhaps this will lead to a visit by Calgary's most famous resident -- or will Jerome Iginla be too busy with hockey next fall to help the Cottonmouths?
We went to the TSYS shareholders meeting to resolve questions from another country. Regular readers will recall a New Delhi man sent us several e-mails recently. They first noted "golden parachutes" for corporate executives [25 Jan], then accused TSYS of "cooking the books" in its Indian operations. The only cooking I saw Wednesday involved sausage biscuits in warming trays in the lobby.
Veeresh Malik admits he's pursuing a race discrimination complaint against a branch of TSYS, over his departure from the company last year. But he expected "some good questions" would come up at the shareholders meeting about the financial records in India. Malik may be stunned to learn India never came up at all. The C.E.O. was more focused on Omaha, Nebraska....
The only question from the floor at the TSYS shareholders meeting was a perennial classic: will our dividends increase? Philip Tomlinson said there's no plan for that in the near future. But he noted the price of TSYS stock is showing "a little progress," trading above 16 dollars. Take the profits and run at your own risk.
It was left to your blog to ask the tough questions - and we wanted to ask them to the TSYS Chairman. But after checking, Director of Communications Cyle Mims said Philip Tomlinson had a busy schedule for the day. Maybe next week, we could ask him. The new openness by Carmike Cinemas executives has yet to spread two blocks up First Avenue.
But Cyle Mims was willing to answer our questions - even though he couldn't answer most of them. Mims isn't sure why an Atlanta law firm is looking for TSYS shareholders, who might know about violations of federal securities laws. Mims doesn't know if it relates to events in India or not. If it does, a case this vague really belongs in The Hague....
I asked Cyle Mims about the sudden departure recently of Robert Philbin, the President of TSYS Acquiring Solutions in Arizona [26 Feb]. He "resigned to pursue other interests," Mims answered. Of course, "other interests" can range from retirement on a golf course to fleeing the F.B.I.
Your blog apparently was the only news outlet to attend Wednesday's TSYS shareholders meeting. Cyle Mims told me the Ledger-Enquirer's business reporter "had another story to cover." I didn't realize the fallout from Kate Gosselin leaving "Dancing With the Stars" would be that great....
(Before TSYS calls to complain about that photo - I took it before the shareholders meeting began. That should be exempt from the company prohibition on cameras. And I absolutely took no pictures of the catered food in the lobby, to tip off the Aflac meeting planners.)
TSYS Chairman Philip Tomlinson announced KPMG had been approved by more than 98 percent of shareholders as the company auditor. But when Tomlinson referred to KPMG as "our friends," a shareholder next to me whispered a good point. That description "doesn't sound like independent auditors, does it?"
(I should note here that while Philip Tomlinson led the shareholders meeting, Columbus mayoral candidate Teresa Tomlinson was nowhere to be found. I don't think the two are related -- and the meeting rules didn't even allow anyone to display a sign.)
Philip Tomlinson summed up 2009 for TSYS with two words: "Good riddance." He said the credit card industry essentially has been "dead for 18 months, minimum." Of course, paying for mandatory health insurance in coming years could change all that....
Yet Philip Tomlinson noted TSYS had first quarter profit which was ten percent above 2009. "One quarter doesn't make a trend, but it's encouraging," the Chairman/CEO said. Atlanta baseball fans need to remember that, every time Jason Heyward hits a home run.
Philip Tomlinson says TSYS is trying to diversify beyond credit card processing, to offer services closer to customers and merchants. He called them the "makers and takers." Exactly which group is which can be left for a debate around Labor Day.
Philip Tomlinson noted Fortune magazine listed TSYS among the most admired U.S. companies for the second year in a row. He said that's impressive considering "we don't advertise." Apparently the two TSYS "partners in education" schools in Muscogee County don't count as free ads.
The only real surprise for me at the TSYS shareholders meeting was that a man led an invocation, praying "in the name of Jesus." Considering TSYS has branches in Muslim and South Asian countries, that prayer is potential trouble -- but then, the only people dressed in "special garb" were teenagers leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
There was also this surprise outside the TSYS building -- an ambulance, which was parked on the grounds throughout the shareholders meeting. Talk about being overly cautious! No one applauded the announcement about a new customer in Canada, much less fainted.
One other question came up, as Cyle Mims escorted me to the TSYS lobby. What does the company do with the Mott House - a historic home which was preserved, as the company built modern office buildings all around it? Mims says it's empty, and speculated the structure might not be stable. So it's a lot like the credit card industry has been....
So TSYS put its best face forward, and ignored the complaints of a complainer half-a-world away. But the man in New Delhi won't go quietly, hinting on his blog TSYS and "Somali pirates" may have something in common. Maybe they both have prominent places at casinos - only TSYS handles automated tellers there.
The Columbus corporate tour continues today, with the annual shareholders meeting of Synovus Financial. That conference will take place at the Trade Center. I'm skipping that meeting, since no one in India has raised complaints about Synovus. Plenty of foreclosed home owners may have, but that's different....
Because of our special coverage, an e-mail we received Wednesday is being held for another day. Let's quickly wrap up other Wednesday news:
+ Benny Parker announced he'll run for Julius Hunter's seat on Columbus Council. The Ledger-Enquirer reported Parker ran for Council and lost in 1983. Some inferiority complexes can take a long time to heal....
+ Georgia Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate. Something about this doesn't seem right. Shouldn't the Labor Commissioner allow an unemployed person to run for that seat first?
+ Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions told National Public Radio he wants a Supreme Court nominee with a record of objectivity and fairness - and someone who is NOT a politician. Given the current political climate in Washington, Sessions knocked down the number of eligible candidates nationwide to about five.
+ A proposed constitutional amendment on electronic bingo in Alabama was withdrawn from the House schedule, and could be dead for the year. State Senate candidate Johnny Ford arranged another "justice and jobs" rally in Montgomery. In Alabama, those words refer to gambling - while in other states they're reserved for keeping schools open.
+ WXTX news anchor Semone Doughton showed a video clip of the moment she became engaged. It happened last week during a vacation in France, halfway up the Eiffel Tower. I'm not sure that could happen this week - not with that volcanic ash cloud keeping so many people grounded.
+ Auburn University head football coach Gene Chizik appeared at a Columbus boosters meeting. Chizik said he'll decide on a starting quarterback based on his own timetable. If the announcement comes in the middle of June, we'll know which player's relatives organized the best fan page on Facebook.
+ Instant Message to everyone who can't believe Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games: Check the commissioner's background. Roger Goodell's father was a Republican U.S. Senator. His wife is a Fox News Channel anchor. If Goddell had his way, the NFL Network probably would show "Law and Order" reruns.
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