Facebook Executives Reiterate Interest in China


Facebook held its annual shareholder meeting Monday. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a panel discussion held as part of the China Development Forum in Beijing on March 19. Photo: Associated Press

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—Facebook Inc. executives Monday reiterated interest in entering China, where the world’s largest social network is banned, as they answered questions at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

“We’re learning, we’re studying about the Chinese market and we’ll see what happens,” Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said, adding that she was in China last week.

Ms. Sandberg said she met many of Facebook’s top clients in China, who use the platform to show ads to users outside the country. Facebook doesn’t maintain an office in China, but sells ads to some Chinese companies.

Facebook’s interest in China is well-documented, though the company isn’t expected to win approval to offer its network there anytime soon. In March, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg jogged through Tiananmen Square—without a pollution mask, sparking a lot of debate on his Facebook page.

In the business portion of the meeting, shareholders approved a company plan to create a new class of shares and re-elected all eight directors including Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who recently disclosed that he had covertly backed lawsuits against Gawker Media. They also rejected five shareholder proposals, on subjects ranging from giving shareholders more of a voice at the company to gender pay equity.

The outcomes were no surprise, as Mr. Zuckerberg holds majority voting power and, therefore, has the vote that matters most. In a question-and-answer session after the meeting, questions largely centered on Facebook’s product plans. Mr. Zuckerberg won a standing ovation when he said he plans to run Facebook for a very long time.

In April, Facebook proposed creating a new class of nonvoting shares that would cement Mr. Zuckerberg’s control over the company. The new Class C shares will have the same economic rights as other shares but wouldn’t have voting rights, allowing Facebook to distribute them to employees and through acquisitions without diluting Mr. Zuckerberg’s control. Google parent Alphabet Inc. made a similar move in 2014.

The meeting did allow shareholders who want more of a say to voice concerns. Christine Jantz, chief investment officer for NorthStar Asset Management, spoke out against the plan to issue non-voting shares. In an interview after the meeting, she called the setup “a disturbing trend” that diminished the power of shareholders to provide input on a variety of issues, such as Mr. Thiel’s role on the board.

“There are two schools of thought here, those that want to wrest control from management” and those who are comfortable with the current setup, said James Richard Wohltmann, a 70-year-old investor who attended the meeting. “The lack of openness isn’t going to change, so you build that into the risk profile of the company.”

More than 100 shareholders were in the room at the Sofitel hotel in Redwood City, Calif. Only four of the eight directors attended: Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chief executive of the Gates Foundation, and Erskine Bowles, a former White House official and president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.

Mr. Thiel wasn’t there, nor was venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, WhatsApp founder and CEO Jan Koum and Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings.

Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

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