ChromaDex 2018 Annual Shareholders Meeting
ChromaDex's 2018 annual shareholders meeting was held today at ChromaDex's world headquarters in Los Angeles, and your favorite ChromaDex Legal Blogger was in attendance.
Having never attended an annual meeting before -- I'm a lawyer, not an activist investor -- I did not know what to expect, except that at the very least I would get to see ChromaDex's new digs, which they moved into last August.
Because the airplanes were on time, I arrived at ChromaDex three hours before the meeting. This is the imposing building in which ChromaDex's world headquarters is located:
ChromaDex headquarters is on the corner of Westwood Blvd. and Wilshire Blvd., just a few blocks from UCLA. The former Bruin in me felt right at home!
Next I convinced the building's security staff to let me in, and then I hitched a ride on an elevator that was already carrying a ChromaDex dignitary to the 6th floor.
This is the imposing entrance to Suite 650:
What corporate secrets lie behind those doors?
I didn't knock; I just barged in.
And when I did, it was like opening the door to nerve center of Willie Wonka's Factory: The Chocolate Room! Only it was the Niagen Room, shiny and gorgeous!
Here is ChromaDex's executive conference room:
Here is a casual meeting area:
[PICTURED: Lounge Area with Artwork, "Your Brain on Niagen"]
The riffraff milling in the top photo are ChromaDex board members who were assembling for their own business meeting before before the shareholders meeting.
A super-polite and friendly office manager somehow deduced that I was not a board member and shoo'd me out of the office, suggesting that there were neither enough sandwiches nor enough chairs for my type.
So I went back down to Westwood Village and had lunch.
But I barely had time to enjoy the epicurean delights of my old stomping grounds before Investor Relations Director Andrew Johnson gave me a call. Andrew had spotted my name on the intruders list at the front desk and summoned me back at my earliest convenience.
This time I had more trouble with building security, but was welcomed with open arms on the 6th floor.
Andrew had arranged to have celebrity executives Frank Jaksch (still CEO), Rob Fried (future CEO), and Mark Friedman (general counsel) meet with me for most of an hour.
We didn't discuss anything that wasn't already public information, but we went over the familiar ground at length, and I heard elevator speeches on a wide variety of topics.
I am not being critical of them; I am mostly interested in talking about the litigation, and they mostly can't talk about the litigation without doing fatal damage to their attorney-client privilege.
My main interest was to get a sense of whether there is anything wrong with the way I am analyzing the litigation, so I can improve my coverage. These execs know WAY more about the facts than I do, and they get briefed on the law by the best law firms.
Here is what they told me: The truth and the facts favor ChromaDex, and the key is getting out the underlying truth. If that sounds familiar, it's because Rob said the same thing at a quarterly conference call last fall.
I got the strong sense that these executives are committed to getting it right.
With respect to the litigation, they are going to get it right, even if takes a while. With respect to the marketing, operations, and strategy, they are going to get it right, and not commit any ready-fire-aim errors.
These executives obviously believe that they have a great company, a great business, and they are not going to screw it up. So they are putting in place the infrastructure for success piece at a time, as quickly as possible, but not more quickly than possible.
As evidence of that, I would point out that there have been a lot of low-level hires recently that don't get a lot of attention from investors but you can see them on LinkedIn. Also their eCommerce website has recently improved significantly.
And if you believe that there are multiple huge businesses in Niagen, then that deliberate, thoughtful approach makes all the sense in the world.
Then we assembled for the annual meeting.
The Board of Directors were seated in a circle. Everyone was in attendance, so that's seven oldish white guys, and two sharp young Horizons appointees. The front rows of spectators were senior executives. The back row was shareholders. There were two shareholders present in the back row, counting me.
Rob joined us shareholders in the back row to answer more questions. Full points to these executives for taking the time to talk with us retail shareholders, even on a busy day when a lot of official duties were pressing.
The official meeting lasted just 16 minutes, and was completely scripted. Chairman Steve Allen conducted his final annual meeting (before Frank takes over as Chairman of the Board) with the demeanor of a wise elder. A quorum was noted, the items on the ballot were recited, ballots were waived (since everybody had presumably already cast their votes online), preliminary results were certified, Mr. Allen was thanked for his service, and the meeting was adjourned.
I think we have seen in movies or on television other annual meetings that involve auditoriums and microphones, where the senior executives present their vision and activist shareholders heckle the CEO. It wasn't that kind of meeting, but maybe we can suggest for next year that they open up some space for hecklers.
Andrew Johnson pointed out new Marketing CMO Lisa Bratkovich in the front row, so I button-holed her immediately afterwards to ask annoying questions and get a selfie:
[PICTURED: Me with new Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Bratkovich]
If you have the sense that Lisa is taller than I am, I had that sense, too. I am 5'10".
Lisa projects a very high level of confidence and competence.
It wouldn't make any sense to ask Lisa substantive questions about her marketing plans, because she's only been on the job three weeks, but I thought it was fair game to ask her what was different and what was similar about the challenges faced by ChromaDex and by Guthy|Renker. She made a compelling case for the similarities, as well as for her experience in all phases of building a product brand.
Just to be a jerk, I guess, I also asked Rob Fried why a movie industry guy would be right to run a nutraceuticals business.
I know enough about business to know that management is a generic skill -- you don't get an MBA in any particular industry -- but since the issue comes up on the investor boards, I thought I would let him respond.
Rob gently, politely hammered home the point that management skills are not industry specific, but added as well that his proven skills in storytelling and team building were very specifically relevant to the challenges that are front-and-center for ChromaDex right now as it transforms its business for scale.
There is no denying that Rob is a charismatic figure. To the extent that I experienced a sense of electricity, commitment, consistency, and solidarity among the ChromaDex staff and leaders -- which I certainly did -- it would be fair to allocate him a good portion of the blame.
In my day job, I have a lot of interactions with the senior leaders of a Fortune 200 company, so I know what the very best executive leaders are like, and I can recognize bullshitters, too. ChromaDex's leaders were impressive.
I was glad just for the chance to meet the team and see the new digs. But the shareholder gift bag made the trip...
...TOTALLY worth it.
The elevators at ChromaDex's headquarters are the fancy kind, where you tell the system your destination before the elevator comes, and then the system tells you which elevator to get in. There are no buttons inside the elevator -- or at least they do not have buttons for each floor; just buttons for emergencies.
When Andrew Johnson summoned the elevator that would be the first leg of my journey home, I forgot that the elevator already knew where to go, and out of habit pushed the only button on the panel, which I assumed was "down," but which in fact was "emergency alert." Bells rang and lights flashed all the way to the lobby.
I doubt that any legal bloggers are ever going to be invited back.
UPDATE June 23, 2018:
A closer look at the lounge artwork: