Executive Pay At Issue: WPP's Sorrell Has Salary, Pension Reduced

It appears that WPP CEO Martin Sorrell’s willingness to take a cut in salary and other benefits has helped win over shareholders on the company’s “say on pay” advisory vote at the firm’s annual general meeting today in London.

The company confirmed that fewer than 20% of votes were cast against this year’s executive remuneration report. By comparison, last year nearly 60% of shareholder votes were cast against the pay package, marking the first time that a majority of investors in an Adland holding company had done so.

Since last year’s vote, the WPP board met extensively with shareholders to discuss desired changes. Then last month WPP issued its Annual Report and Accounts, which indicated that the CEO’s remuneration package had been reduced going forward. Effective at the start of 2013, Sorrell’s base salary was reduced by about 12% to approximately $1.8 million.

Also being cut back are contributions to Sorrell’s pension, as well as opportunities under the company’s short- and long-term incentive plans. In 2012, Sorrell was the highest-paid holding company CEO, earning total compensation of nearly $28 million.

Executive pay is also an issue at other holding companies. The closest vote on pay occurred last week at Toronto-based MDC Partners' annual meeting. Shareholders barely approved a non-binding resolution on senior executive compensation for last year, including a $9.3 million pay package for CEO Miles Nadal. A fraction over half -- 50.3 % -- of shareholder votes were cast in favor of the resolution, while 49.7% of the votes were cast against.

But the pay issue didn’t seem to be as troubling this year for investors in New York-based holding companies Interpublic Group and Omnicom Group. At the IPG annual meeting last month, nearly 98% of shareholder votes were cast in favor of the executive compensation package that awarded CEO Michael Roth total remuneration of $9.7 million last year. Results were similar at the Omnicom annual meeting also held in May, when 97.5% of shareholder votes were cast in favor of the executive pay package. In 2012, CEO John Wren was paid a total of $14.8 million.

There were a few more dissenters at the Publicis Groupe annual meeting regarding the pay package for CEO Maurice Levy, although the resolution on that package -- which awarded him total compensation of $24.4 million -- easily passed with nearly 79% of shareholder votes cast in favor. Most of Levy’s outsized paycheck was due to the $21 million he received as part of a deferred pay program for the years 2003 to 2011.



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