According to the latest High Pay Centre report on CEO pay in the FTSE 100, on average, FTSE 100 CEO pay has fallen 17 percent, from £5.4 million (U.S.$7.1M) in 2015 to £4.5 million (U.S.$5.9M) in 2016.
This provides stark contrast to previous years. Yes, CEO pay went down after the financial crisis, as might have been expected, but it never happens otherwise. But in the latest round of annual reports, those for fiscal year 2016, pay actually went down.
But wait. That’s average pay, right? Initial responses to the finding were based on the fact that a couple of very high-profile CEOs received pay cuts. Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of advertising giant WPP, saw his pay package drop from £70.4 million (U.S.$92.9M) in 2015 to £48.1 million (U.S. $63.4M) in 2016. Ramesh Kapoor, CEO at consumer products group Reckitt Benckiser, saw his pay fall by £8.8 million (U.S.$11.6M) to £14.6 million (U.S.$19.2M). And, in fact, the report says that the gap between highest and lowest FTSE 100 pay package has narrowed, “as companies ‘chase the median’.” “Average pay packages of the 25 highest paid CEOs have dropped by 24 percent to £9.4 million (U.S.$12.4M) in 2016. Conversely, the 32 lowest paid CEOs in the FTSE 100 have seen an increase in their overall package.”
Compliance Week asked Stefan Stern, the head of the High Pay Centre, about median CEO pay and was told that yes, the average can be skewed by a couple of major outliers, but the median is unaffected by them. Perhaps the High Pay Centre had gone for the big figure to grab the headlines, but the median also went down significantly, from £3.97 million (U.S.$5.9M) to £3.54 million (U.S.$4.7M), a fall of 13 percent. So, it’s not just playing with statistics; pay did actually go down. But that begs the question: Why? Did remuneration committees and CEOs suddenly see the light and agree to pay packages more in line with those they manage? While an outbreak of altruism in British boardrooms seems unlikely, it is possible that pressure has been building up over time from a number of directions to a point where it is now impossible to ignore.
[W]hether declining CEO pay is performance-driven or the result of outside governmental, shareholder, or institutional influence is a question that will remain unanswered until next year’s results are in.
This annual meeting season has not been as controversial as past ‘shareholder springs,’ (especially compared to what we saw in 2016) but still, pay packages were voted down or stopped at Imperial Brands and Thomas Cook this year following the BP revolt last year, but the message is quite possible getting through. And the issue was one of the key campaign messages of Prime Minister Theresa May in her bid to become Conservative Party leader last year when pay decisions were being made. And it wasn’t only the new Prime Minister making noises about inequality, fat cat CEOs, and excessive pay. There was also a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee inquiry and the resulting BEIS green paper on corporate governance. And outside of politics, recommendations from shareholders, the Investment Association, the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry, the Executive Remuneration Working Group and reports from PwC, and the Pew Research Centre told companies it was time to listen to growing public dissatisfaction.
As it turns out, the threat from the Conservative Party turned out to be something of a damp squib in reality, as internal factions fought against any real regulation, which left a triumvirate of weakened proposals from the array of “making British bosses pay” proposals that May started out with. What remains is: publication of the CEO/worker pay ratio, a kind of worker representation on boards, and a naming and shaming of companies which have experienced a 20 percent or higher vote against their pay packages. Hardly the start of a revolution.
But what if pay went down because performance was worse? Plausible, but the High Pay Centre’s report notes that stock market performance over the last 12 months generally went up, not down This time period is, of course, relevant for annual bonuses, which are not generally based on stock price but on other operational metrics that may or may not be related to a rise in stock prices. To really see any of these pay declines were related to poor performance, one would have to check in each of the 100 remuneration reports of the companies in the study.
Until such a task is undertaken, whether declining CEO pay is performance-driven or the result of outside governmental, shareholder, or institutional influence is a question that will remain unanswered until next year’s results are in. Until then, the flood of advice, threatened regulations, enquiries and engagement will remain considered as “taken under advisement” until proven otherwise.