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Cheerup My Lovely Cousin

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In truth, most shareholders have very little real power over a company's behavior. "What we have to do is throw gorilla dust," Monks says. "When two gorillas get ready to fight, they throw dust at each other. I'm in the gorilla-dust business, and I'm in the gorilla-dust business not because I like it, but because it's the only game in town."

Shareholder activists began arriving in Dallas on the afternoon of May 29, and by evening, they were sitting in the lobby of their hotel planning the next day's strategy. Daly was clearly delighted to be reunited with longtime colleagues in the struggle, including Michael Crosby, the Capuchin priest, and Tracey Rembert from the Service Employees International Union. As they settled into the hotel's brightly colored armchairs, they began telling stories of past meetings. The stories tended to star Lee Raymond, the former chief executive, who was openly hostile to any discussion about global warming. One year's meeting featured the Rev. Robert Sirico, whose Acton Institute was a regular recipient of ExxonMobil donations, testifying that Daly and Crosby were trying to overthrow the free-enterprise system. "I always had a headache leaving that meeting," Daly said. "You'd walk away and say, 'There's got to be another way.' "

This year was expected to be far more cordial. For one thing, Tillerson is more genial than his predecessor, and he impressed everyone with his politeness the previous year. In addition, it was clear that mainstream shareholders no longer see climate resolutions as recommendations from the company's lunatic fringe. To everyone's surprise, the three largest proxy advisory firms, I.S.S., Glass Lewis & Company and Proxy Governance, had all recommended that their clients vote in favor of Item 15, which was Daly's resolution. A number of state pension funds were on board, including Calpers, which owns 30 million shares, and Stanford University had announced that its endowment would be voting its proxies in favor of the resolution as well.

But Crosby reminded them of some bad news. ExxonMobil had changed the rules of engagement, reducing the amount of time for discussion of each resolution from 10 minutes to 3. That didn't leave much time for the shareholders to make their case.

"The only other company like this is Reynolds," sighed Crosby, who spends much of the proxy season battling Big Tobacco.

Rembert nodded. "I tell everyone, if you can survive this meeting, you can survive anything."



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