Microsoft Touts $39.8B in Returns During Annual Shareholders Meeting

Microsoft's Annual Shareholder Meeting voting results were reported on Tuesday, bringing in a new board member, financial stats and vision, plus down votes on most of the social reform proposals.

Added to the 12-member board was Carlos Rodriguez, CEO at ADP. The only social reform measure to pass was a proposal by Arjuna Capital for an assessment of Microsoft's workplace sexual harassment policies. It passed with 77.97 percent of the votes per Microsoft's Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K. Natasha Lamb, a managing partner at Arjuna Capital, cited inadequate past actions by Microsoft, as well as sexual harassment allegations against former CEO Bill Gates, in introducing the measure.

In public comments for the meeting (per a Nov. 30 transcript), Brad Smith, Microsoft's president, pledged that Microsoft would share its sexual harassment data publicly, instead of just internally within Microsoft. A "third party" will be brought in to investigate cases, he added.

Smith also shared recent data, indicating that nearly half of the sexual harassment claims were verified by the company. Microsoft had 51 complaints in fiscal-year 2021 and 142 complaints in the prior fiscal year.

A shareholder proposal for Microsoft to end facial recognition technology sales to all governments, proposed by Harrington Investments, failed with just 4.05 percent of shareholders supporting it. In its proxy materials, Microsoft claimed the measure was too broad and would bar its Windows Hello biometric authentication solution in Windows, used to verify identities.

Last year, Microsoft described limiting facial recognition technology sales to U.S. police departments, but side-stepped doing so in the case of government agencies, such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, where its solutions were actively marketed.

Shareholder Stats
Plenty of stats were dangled before shareholders during the meeting session.

Amy Hood, Microsoft's chief financial officer, said that Microsoft "returned $39.8 billion to shareholders last year in the form of share repurchase and dividend, which is an increase of about 13%, year over year." Her comment was mentioned when a shareholder proposed that Microsoft split the stock, which isn't being considered.

In fiscal-year 2021, Microsoft's revenue "grew 18% to over $168 billion, operating income grew 32% and earnings per share grew 38%," Hood added.

Microsoft completed acquisitions of seven companies in fiscal-year 2021, including games developer ZeniMax Media, software-defined network services provider Metaswitch Networks and Internet of Things (IoT) security solutions firm ReFirm Labs.

Hood also shared prior fiscal-year stats, namely:

  • The Microsoft Cloud business "surpassed $69 billion in revenue, growing 34% year over year."
  • Microsoft Azure "grew 50%."
  • Office 365 "grew 22%."
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365 "grew 43%."
  • Microsoft Teams monthly active users "reached nearly 250 million."
  • Microsoft 365 consumer subscribers "grew to 51.9 million."

Hood also offered an aggregate view of Microsoft's business products, stating that "our server products and cloud services business exceeded $52 billion, up 27%, with strong customer demand for our trusted, differentiated hybrid offerings."

For this fiscal year, Microsoft is continuing its plans to acquire cloud and AI services provider Nuance Communications. Hood said that fiscal-year 2022 had a "strong start," with first-quarter growth "exceeding 20%."

"These results were driven by Microsoft Cloud revenue, which surpassed $20 billion for the first time, growing 36%, year over year," she noted.

Hood briefly praised "the positive early demand signals we saw for Windows 11," but she didn't give any stats on Microsoft's newly launched new client operating system.

Visionary Items
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revisited his recent Ignite keynote talk highlights during the Annual Shareholder Meeting. Nadella recently made the news for selling more than half of his Microsoft shares, estimated at $285 million, prior to the meeting. It possibly was done to avoid an upcoming Washington state capital gains tax law change, according to a Seattle Times report.

Nadella described Microsoft's embrace of the "metaverse" as "the next phase of the Web and the Internet" that involves the "digitization of people, places and things" with "embodied presence." Microsoft's metaverse efforts first started seven years ago with the launch of the HoloLens mixed-reality headset, he added.

Microsoft's aim is to invest in the metaverse as a platform, which starts with the Azure IoT service, Nadella indicated:

So, therefore, our first order of priority is to invest in building the [metaverse] platform. And the platform starts with Azure IoT, which is able to digitize all of the people, places, things, or creating digital twins, and to be able to then create, through Mesh or Microsoft Mesh, these metaverse worlds, right? Just like how you created websites in the past, you will now create these new metaverse applications using these intrinsics. The platform is sort of the most important piece for us to lay out.

Other investment areas for Microsoft include artificial intelligence (AI) and remote work support.

"Going forward, every business process will be collaborative, powered by data and AI, and will bridge the digital and physical worlds," Nadella said.

Nadella also said that AI is changing Microsoft's applications, which he described as a cultural shift that is affecting its software engineering efforts and the tools it makes.

"The other area of AI I would also stress is how it manifests in our applications, whether it's in Forza or whether it's in Teams or whether it's in Dynamics," Nadella said. "They all are now AI driven."