hareholder spring is rapidly turning into shareholder summer as investors flex their muscles in the light of increased government concern about rising executive pay.
As The Grocer went to press, Tesco was next in line for a public humiliation after shareholder advisory group Pirc urged investors to vote at the retailer’s agm against its remuneration report. Pirc believes the combined remuneration is “excessive”, despite Tesco overhauling its pay policy last month in response to a rebellion last year, when 47% of shareholders refused to support its report.
Pirc’s recommendation comes a month after 26.3% of Premier Foods’ shareholders voted against its remuneration report, while one in six opposed the executive pay at Reckitt Benckiser. And this year there have been some high-profile casualties in other sectors including insurance group Aviva, whose CEO Andrew Moss stepped down after shareholders voted against his pay.
After years of apathy, during which shareholders ignored a public baying for blood as the gap between ‘fat cat’ directors and the average person widened, it appears they have finally grown some.
It would be great if this was the result of a genuine re-thinking about executive pay. But of course this is really about self-interest. Shareholders have woken up to the fact that executive pay and company performance have long been divorced. On top of this, investors are getting a bad press, with your average Joe out there partly blaming them for propping up what is seen as unreasonable director pay.
But they are also feeling bullish enough to voice their concerns thanks to government pressure. Last week, BIS announced a three-year binding vote on future executive remuneration policy. This means companies will be required to set out in detail their remuneration policy for the following year, including performance metrics and pay levels, for shareholders to approve at least every three years.
The balance now is in ensuring UK firms are not disadvantaged in the global war for talent. But transferring the setting of pay from the board to shareholders is a bold move and could make a real difference, encouraging shareholders to be more engaged and companies to listen to what they say.