|By Julie Wernau, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 8, 2010 --Hyatt Hotels Corp. said Monday that the hotel chain's first annual meeting as a public company is closed to the media.
"Since we are a newly public company, this meeting is only open to stockholders, which is not an uncommon practice," said Farley Kern, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Hyatt.
Corporate governance experts said while restrictions are commonly placed on media, an outright ban is rare for a publicly traded company.
"I think it's a self-defeating practice. Not to mention, I don't think it's good public relations, because it leads people to wonder, 'What are they trying to hide?'" said Patrick McGurn, special counsel for proxy advisors ISS/RiskMetrics Group.
Natick, Mass.-based Boston Scientific Corp. faced criticism last month in The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets after it barred the media from attending its annual shareholder meeting. McGurn said only a handful of companies engage in such bans each year, and that most decide not to do it the following year.
"The fallout from bad press eclipsed everything else they had at that meeting," he said.
Hyatt's meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
Hotel workers union Unite Here plans a rally and protest at McCormick Place the day of the meeting. Annemarie Strassel, spokeswoman for Unite Here, said dozens of religious leaders and more than 100 hotel workers are expected "to express their outrage" at Hyatt. Last month hotel workers staged a brief walkout, signaling frustration with lack of progress in contract negotiations.
Hyatt went public in November. But members of the Pritzker family hold 78 percent of the total voting power of the company's outstanding common stock due to a dual-class structure that gives them 10 times more voting power than other Hyatt investors. Proposals before shareholders include approving the company's board, an employee stock-purchase plan and the appointment of an independent, registered public accounting firm.
According to proxy material, the Pritzkers have agreed to vote their shares in line with the board's recommendations. Penny Pritzker and Thomas J. Pritzker are standing for re-election to the board.
Keith Mabee, vice chairman of Dix & Eaton, a public relations and investor relations firm, said as a new public company, Hyatt is not only undergoing regulatory changes but also a cultural transition.
"They're newly public and fiercely private, but those two issues clash here, it seems," he said.
Hyatt's corporate governance guidelines state that the company "recognizes that the long-term interests of stockholders are advanced by taking into consideration, as appropriate, the concerns of other stakeholders." Mabee said the media ban does not appear to be in line with Hyatt's own guidelines and is not considered "best practices" for a public company.
"People have to get used to the fact that, you're public. It's like political office," he said.
Kern said Hyatt has not ruled out the possibility that future meetings might be open to the media and said the company would answer questions from the media regarding topics discussed at the annual meeting.
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