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Investors revolt over WPP boss pay

Published 09/06/2015

Sir Martin Sorrell's total award for 2014 was swollen by a £36 million contribution from a controversial long-term executive bonus scheme
Sir Martin Sorrell's total award for 2014 was swollen by a £36 million contribution from a controversial long-term executive bonus scheme

Advertising giant WPP faced a showdown with investors as more than a fifth of shareholders refused to back chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell's £43 million pay package.

The vote at WPP's annual general meeting in London saw just under 20% vote against Sir Martin's 2014 pay deal - the biggest chief executive package in the FTSE 100 Index .

Including those who abstained from voting, just over 22% of investors failed to support WPP's remuneration report in a widely-predicted revolt at the AGM.

But the remuneration policy was approved despite the rebellion, which comes after WPP also saw a shareholder protest over pay last year, when almost 30% of shareholders failed to back the group's remuneration policy.

Sir Martin's total award for 2014 - which was 44% higher than in 2013 - was swollen by a £36 million contribution from a controversial long-term executive bonus scheme.

Shareholder advisory firm Pirc had sent out an alert ahead of the AGM, branding Sir Martin's pay as "excessive" and raising concerns that it was 37 times his base salary.

It added: "There are concerns over the excessiveness of this payment as the CEO's total remuneration over the last five-year period is not commensurate with the c ompany's financial performance over the same period."

Sir Martin's pay included a basic salary of £1.15 million, plus pension and other benefits of £ 2.2 million, with short-term incentives of £3.56 million, taking the total to £ 42.98 million.

The sum was more than eight times higher than the average £5.04 million paid to FTSE 100 bosses, according to the High Pay Centre think tank.

And it was more than twice as much as that of his nearest rival, Royal Dutch Shell boss Ben van Beurden, who received the second largest package at 24.2 million euros (£15.8 million).

Sir Martin's hefty long-term share award comes after the scheme was scrapped in 2012 amid a shareholder revolt.

Despite this, executives are still able to participate in it based on the share purchases they made in the years before its replacement.

In a trading update announced alongside the AGM, WPP said like-for-like revenue, net sales and profits were "well ahead" year-on-year in the first four months of 2015.

UK revenues rose 8.1% like-for-like, making it the best performing region once more.

Overall net sales rose 2.3% on a like-for-like basis.

WPP said 2015 looked to be another "demanding year", with no major events such as the Olympics or Fifa World Cup to boost marketing investments.

Sir Martin joined WPP in 1986 and has turned the business into one of the world's biggest advertising and marketing companies, with about 180,000 staff and UK agencies including Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy and RLM Finsbury.

He is also a non-executive director of Formula One.

It was disclosed earlier this year that Sir Martin had donated 1.42 million shares, worth more than £21 million, to his charitable trust which supports causes including educational institutions and charities.

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