Business leaders in Northern Ireland canvassed by the Belfast Telegraph have expressed their approval of the new £190,000 pay packet of Invest NI chief Alastair Hamilton.
Invest NI chairman Mark Ennis and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment permanent secretary David Sterling, last week explained to the assembly's enterprise committee the circumstances leading up to the change in basic salary from £160,000 to £190,000 - more than the Prime Minister, who earns around £145,000.
Mr Hamilton had been hired three years ago on a deal which would see him paid £160,000 with scope for an annual bonus of up to £48,000.
However, Mr Ennis explained that Mr Hamilton did not want to accept the yearly £36,800 bonus which would have been awarded to him because of the repeated public outcry over businesses.
After a review of senior civil service pay, Mr Hamilton's basic package was upgraded around six weeks ago to £190,000 per year but with no performance-related element. The additional £30,000 per year was also backdated three years.
The disclosure of the pay packet was greeted with a cacophony of disagreement from most political parties and many members of the public.
But a straw poll of business leaders in Northern Ireland indicates that they approve of Mr Hamilton's salary and indicates that the track record of the former BT executive would suggest he's worth it.
Mervyn McCall, chairman of the Northern Ireland division of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "Good leadership must be rewarded.
"Leaders create thousands of jobs, deliver wealth for investors and drive innovation.
"To secure entrepreneurial leaders from the private sector to fill key roles within the public sector in Northern Ireland substantial remuneration is required.
"If you want a good CEO, you have to pay for it, and that's exactly what the board of Invest NI recognise it has in the current incumbent.
"The chief executive of Invest NI plays a critical role in driving future economic prosperity for the region and not one that is easily comparable to any other role in the public sector."
Meanwhile, one business owner indicated his approval of Mr Hamilton's salary. Terry Canning, founder of agri-IT company FarmWizard, said: "As a high growth indigenous technology company we have worked with Invest NI for many years and feel that there really has been a step change in the Invest NI culture since Alastair Hamilton took over the reins.
"If we want to have a strong leader looking after such an important role in NI plc then we have to be prepared to pay for them. I therefore support the rise."
Giving evidence of Invest NI's six-monthly performance to the committee last week, Mr Hamilton said 1,300 firms had created 5,192 net new jobs with the help of the economic development agency over the past three years.
John Moore, director of recruiting firm Hays in Northern Ireland
Executive compensation strategies are designed to attract and retain top talent, and incentivise and reward high performance.
Where senior executives perform strongly, meet or exceed business goals and provide leadership excellence within an organisation, there is a reasonable expectation that remuneration should reflect this.
In recent times it was true to say that many organisations had been observing a pay freeze, which generally included their senior tier.
However, despite more vacancies now coming on to the market and greater movement among senior executives, it is still difficult for organisations to secure top talent.
As a result, companies keen to attract the best people are reviewing remuneration strategy, so salaries are creeping upwards after an extended period of little or no change.
It is a matter for the individual organisation to assess what they feel to be a sustainable, proportionate and fair remuneration strategy for their senior team.
There is always a high demand for business leaders with technical, interpersonal and decision-making prowess, so Invest NI are right to keep their processes under review and so ensure that the very best of our local business talent remains within Northern Ireland."
Tony Wall, senior lecturer in accounting at University of Ulster
The arguments against high pay at senior levels in the public sector normally focus on the fact that public sector organisations tend not to generate any revenue and thus only absorb costs.
As such organisations do not make a profit why should senior managers earn salaries that seem so much higher than the national average?
Moreover, whilst people at the top of private sector organisations earn higher salaries than their public sector counterparts, overall the pay gap between the two sectors has shrunk over the past decade.
On top of this pensions in the public sector are seen as more generous when compared to what the individual has contributed. This whole debate can be further fuelled by tabloid stories about excessive jollies and civil servants using departmental credit cards for personal items.
However, the main argument for high salary levels for senior public sector officials is that to attract a suitably qualified and competent person the remuneration must be attractive.
Public sector organisations provide essential services and often have to deal with both contributing and non-contributing customers, which brings extra challenges. Furthermore, at a time when the public sector is facing increasing budgetary constraints the pressure on those at the top of its organisations increases.
John Keane, managing director of Ardmore Advertising
The controversy over this pay deal is understandable given the present economic climate and the pressure on individuals - those working or not - to keep paying the bills.
A story like this makes for good headlines too because it plays to the 'them' and 'us' mentality which is appealing in these times of austerity. However, the issue needs to be looked at in its full and proper context. It isn't simply about one individual's pay.
If we're serious about rebalancing the economy in Northern Ireland - growing a dynamic private sector capable of fulfilling the employment needs of future generations - then Invest NI have to lead in delivering it. For this to happen, it needs to adopt a 'private sector' commercial mindset, and, for this to be achieved, there needs to be an incentive to deliver on goals. Crucially, we need commercially-minded leadership for effective decision-making in the public sector, and as far as I can see, Alastair Hamilton has done a good job so far, is meeting his objectives, and I hope that he'll continue to do so. I also hope that there will continue to be innovative thinking around leadership, working styles and objective-setting within the public sector which attracts similarly-minded, experienced and motivated employees.
Ian Coulter, CBI Northern Ireland
If we want the best people in the best positions, we need to pay near private sector market rates for the key posts.
Currently we benchmark competitively against Scotland and the Republic of Ireland in respect of each country's economic agencies.
If this level of scrutiny over individual salaries continues, we won't be able to attract the best people into the top jobs for much longer.
Kim Johnston, KJ Executive Search
In my experience working with chief executives and managing directors, most people don't do it for the money.
They believe they're going to make a good impact on the business or organisation they work for and do something meaningful but people at such a high level should still be properly financially rewarded.
There have been suggestions that the head of our economic development agency should get less than his peer in Scotland because she has to deal with a bigger organisation but it's not about the number of people you're managing or the size of you're budget, it's the opportunities you're bringing.
Whether you're running a £10m business or a £100m business you're still faced with the same challenges.
Also, getting someone to straddle both the intricacies of the public and private sector is difficult and a special skill in itself.
Tom Kelly OBE, chief executive of Stakeholder Group
Northern Ireland public sector salaries can be much higher than a private sector comparison.
That said, being CEO of Invest NI is a slightly different position as it is a public sector body that needs to think, act and look like a private sector business.
Therefore, the post requires someone with significant private sector experience and, to attract someone with the required experience, you need a commensurate salary.
Politicians need to re-assess how they view people in organisations such as Invest NI or our large utilities.
These are national-sized businesses. I can't help but think there is too much ‘salary envy' amongst some politicians, some of whom haven't been fully transparent when it comes to spending public money on expenses or employing family members.
As long as those who work in the public sector are performing well in their posts, and the manner of their salary make-up is transparent, then there is no reason why they shouldn't be paid the going rate.