Business

The price of Sir Martin Sorrell’s £6.8m

  • 13 June 2012
  • From the section Business
  • comments

There is a lot of talk about a great wave of shareholder activism against excessive executive pay, a so-called Shareholder Spring - and there has been a 100% increase in the number of rejections by investors of FTSE 100 companies' remuneration policies, from just one decisive rebellion, in some years, to a grand total of two this year.

That said, the 60% vote against the remuneration report of WPP, the media giant, is significant.

It is in effect a vote against the 60% rise to £6.8m in the total rewards of WPP's chief executive and founder, Sir Martin Sorrell. Which is powerfully symbolic, since Sir Martin is far and away the most prominent British business leader to suffer the humiliation of having his pay rejected.

In theory, WPP can ignore the vote. It isn't binding. But I understand that the company's chairman, Philip Lader, and the head of the remuneration commtitee, Jeffrey Rosen, will meet shareholders to find a new package that would be acceptable to them.

In a way though, this vote is about more than pay. It is about shareholders' confidence in the board.

Investors have signalled they wish Sir Martin to stay, by voting 98% in favour of his re-election - but only 78% voted for Mr Rosen and 88% for Mr Lader.

Normally, in these embarrassing circumstances, someone senior would resign from the board, to bring about a structural improvement in the relationship with the owners.

If the resignation is not to be Sir Martin - and most shareholders will be thinking "bathwater" and "babies" at the possibility of him quitting - then presumably it will have to be one or both of the individuals who set his pay, Mr Rosen and Mr Lader.