STRONGSVILLE: RPM International’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday afternoon combined business, celebrations and presidential politics.
The $3.8 billion Medina coatings and sealant maker typically attracts many shareholders to its annual meeting — each shareholder gets a “goody bag” filled with RPM products. This year’s bag included a Testors car “Ultra Detail Metal Model Kit,” Rust-Oleum LeakSeal, Zinsser spray primer, DAP caulking, small containers of paint and candy.
They also got snacks, nonalcoholic drinks and were entertained by Cleveland’s Singing Angels youth chorus. About 1,000 people filled the main meeting hall in the Holiday Inn at Interstate 71 and Royalton Road.
The routine business included electing directors to three-year terms on the board and appointing Ernst & Young as RPM’s public accounting firm. Following a successful shareholder resolution, RPM will look into changing all director terms to one year.
The company also celebrated the retirements this year of two longtime board members, Jim Karman, a 50-year veteran, and Donald K. Miller, who had been on the board 40 years.
Then things got a little political during a question-and-answer session with shareholders.
Frank Sullivan, RPM’s chairman and chief executive officer, offered his take on what steps government can take to improve the economy and business climate in response to questions.
Sullivan said that President Barack Obama’s administration intends to raise the dividend tax rate to help pay for the new federal health-care reforms. (Many RPM shareholders say they bought the stock in part for its dividend, which has been increased annually the past 39 consecutive years; RPM increased the yearly dividend Thursday by 4.7 percent to 90 cents per share.)
RPM reprinted a letter Sullivan wrote to shareholders in 2008, just before the previous presidential election, and distributed it at Thursday’s meeting.
Sullivan read from the letter, saying that reducing “burdensome” regulations and “meaningful” tort reform are needed.
American manufacturers are here to stay “unless what remains of the vibrant American manufacturing base is driven away or killed by American legal and regulatory system self-inflicted wounds,” he said.
Sullivan added, “In my lifetime, every president has liked business and supported business, from John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and George Bush. This president [he didn’t mention Obama by name] neither likes, understands nor supports business. And that’s probably more than I should have said but that’s the response to some questions.” Shareholders applauded.
After the meeting concluded, Sullivan said that half of his management team at RPM voted for Obama in 2008.
“I was hopeful. A lot of people were hopeful,” he said. “[But] we’ve had four years of self-inflicted wounds.”
Sullivan stood by his shareholder meeting comments, saying he wasn’t trying to comment on whom to vote for but on what he sees as the current business environment.
“You can’t attack job creators and then wonder why nobody is creating jobs,” Sullivan said. “You can put in the paper ... in my life, John Kennedy loved business. Reagan loved business. Clinton loved business. Bush loved business. This guy does not love business. And it’s evident. Business has been under attack by this administration. People don’t want to say it.”
“I had lawyers and people tell me I shouldn’t say anything because you run the risk of retaliation,” Sullivan said. “And I thought, boy, isn’t that a scary statement in the United States of America, that lawyers will advise a business person not to say anything, not to exercise their free speech over their frustration on the business environment for fear they will be retaliated against?”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org