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34% of WPP shareholders rebel over boss Sir Martin Sorrell's £70m pay deal

Published 08/06/2016

Sir Martin Sorrell's remuneration deal made him the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100
Sir Martin Sorrell's remuneration deal made him the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100

More than a third of shareholders in advertising giant WPP refused to back boss Sir Martin Sorrell's mammoth £70 million pay deal as it was accused of a "history of excessive pay".

WPP saw 34.2% of investor votes made against its remuneration report or withheld at the firm's annual general meeting (AGM) in London amid concerns over Sir Martin's controversial pay package.

The group survived the vote at its AGM, with two thirds of investors backing the remuneration report, although the final vote count is due later.

But a raft of investors and shareholders voiced their anger at the AGM over Sir Martin's pay package.

This includes a £1.15 million base salary and £62.8 million in shares from a long-term incentive plan - making him the best paid chief executive in the FTSE 100.

The 71-year-old's award for 2015 had been branded "excessive" and "unacceptable" ahead of the meeting.

The UK Shareholders' Association, which represents small retail investors, hit out at the board at the AGM, saying it was "extremely uneasy" about Sir Martin's pay and said the remuneration committee that sets pay at the group has been "weak".

"There's been a history of excessive pay here at WPP," it added.

The vote marks its second major revolt over Sir Martin's pay in four years after nearly 60% of WPP investors rejected Sir Martin's £6.8 million pay packet amid the so-called shareholder spring of 2012.

WPP's vote had been highly anticipated, coming amid increasing tension once more between investors and boards over pay.

BP faced a humiliating shareholder rebellion over executive pay in April, when almost 60% of BP shareholders rejected the oil giant's remuneration report, which awarded boss Bob Dudley £13.8 million.

Roger Jeary at ShareAction claimed at the AGM that Sir Martin's pay deal was nearly 200 times the average WPP employee's earnings.

Deborah Gilshan, corporate governance counsel at the Railways Pension Scheme, said at the annual meeting in London that pay at WPP was out of line with the interests of shareholders and other stakeholders in the company.

Standard Life Investments, which owns nearly 17 million shares in WPP, said it voted against the remuneration report and called for more work to be done on succession planning for Sir Martin.

But Sir Martin insisted he reinvests his pay into shares in the company.

He told investors: "All the amount after tax is remained in the company and the only asset I have is in WPP shares. I think that is something that is forgotten often."

WPP chairman Roberto Quarta said the group was listening to shareholder concerns over pay and pledged to consult once more over remuneration when it meets with key shareholders in the autumn.

"Rest assured we hear your comments and your voice today and certainly we will take them into account," he said.

The group has previously defended Sir Martin's pay as the result of "outstanding" returns to shareholders.

In a trading update released separately, WPP said recent UK trading had slowed, possibly as a result of Brexit fears, and reiterated warnings over the impact of a vote to quit the EU.

Sir Martin told shareholders a Brexit vote would have a "serious impact" on the prospects of the company in Europe.

In the final result on remuneration, shareholders voted 66.55% in favour and 33.45% against approving the implementation report of the compensation committee.

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