An unusually heated AGM season is underway in London as shareholders are protesting proposed pay hikes for bosses.
Last year, only 5% of shareholders voted against pay reports in the UK on average, according to data provider Proxy Insight.
Chief executive Pascal Soriot is still in line to pocket a salary as high as £17.8mln for 2020, although nearly 40% of votes were against it.
“It’s understandable why. Only just emerging from a painful pandemic, throwing big money at your top team might look insensitive,” said Lee Wild, head of equity strategy at interactive investor.
“Too many chief executives are overpaid for underperformance. AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot is not one of them. AstraZeneca justifies the significant hike in Soriot’s already generous pay package with the well-worn excuse that you have to pay big bucks for quality CEOs. But in this case, they’re right.”
Jacques left the FTSE 100 mining giant after it blasted the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge heritage areas in Australia to access iron ore. Since the AGM vote is only advisory, he may take home up to £28mln anyway.
Glass Lewis said the package was “excessive for a newly appointed CEO with no previous experience of running a publicly listed company”, but 74% of shareholders voted in favour.
Glass Lewis also criticised BAE Systems PLC’s (LON:BA.) plans to throw an extra £2mln at chief executive Charles Woodburn so he wouldn’t leave the defence contractor after being approached by another company. Three-quarters voted in favour.
A third of shareholders voted against it but Taurel said it was necessary because Bird was an “outstanding candidate”.
Drug company Indivior PLC (LON:INDV), instead, faced a backlash after including former boss Shaun Thaxter, who last year pleaded guilty for misinformation on the label of anti-opioid treatment Suboxone Film, in the remuneration report.
With only 38% of shareholders opposing it, he could receive up to £2.2mln in share awards and options.
Investors were concerned about giving the payout because the share price is still 35% below pre-pandemic levels and the estate agent has received £7mln in government support.
It was akin to Hostelworld Group PLC (LON:HSW), part of the uber-battered travel sector, where chief executive Gary Morrison and chief financial officer Caroline Sherry will receive a bonus equivalent to 112% of their salaries after it was withheld during the pandemic.
At last month’s AGM, 29% of shareholders voted against the remuneration package and around a quarter opposed allowing the company to make political donations.
“It is not the company’s intention to make donations to political parties, or to make other political donations within the normal meaning of that expression, and the directors have no intention of changing that policy,” the hostel operator said.
London Stock Exchange PLC (LON:LSE) shareholders were spooked by how fast chief executive David Schwimmer was getting bonuses, though only 24% voted against them.
“Although shareholders were broadly supportive of the underlying principle of the CEO’s increase in base salary post completion of the Refinitiv transaction we recognise that certain shareholders would have preferred the increase to have been phased,” the company said.
“Now is not the time to be handing out salary increases to already well-paid executives. Companies should freeze increases and revisit next year at the earliest,” he said.