Monday, 18 April 2011

Shareholder rebels over executive pay

I would link this post to the headline in the Sunday Times, but it is hidden behind a paywall. The article about Standard Life, the biggest sharteholder in Rio Tinto, criticising "the mining giant for handing bosses generous rewards for hitting 'unchallenging' targets. It follows 41% of votes going against last year's remuneration report. The issue raises some interesting questions;

  • Should shareholder votes on the remuneration committee's report be binding instead of just advisory?
  • Should public companies treat these expressions of shareholder dismay rather more seriously?
  • Does the lack of board responsiveness itself point to serious governance issues? For example are the non-executive directors actually doing their job or are they merely cheerleaders for the board?

As time passes and we see more of this, I suspect there will be a growing consensus for reform. The big problem is that shareholders will rarely vote against the reappointment of directors. By the time a company is performing badly enough to warrant that, the shareholders simply sell and leave a takeover to institute reform. However that discipline does not help when a company is performing reasonably well, yet shareholders are unhappy about outrageous remuneration packages. What is needed is a mechanism that produces more active non-executive directors who are not all part of the club who vote each other outrageous remuneration. It is not even always that directors sit on each other's boards or are personal friends. They just have similar backgrounds and similar interests and believe that high remuneration for pedestrian performance is ok because that is the deal they have themselves received in their day jobs.

This is an argument for boardroom diversity

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