Fat cats, slim returns


The bosses of Britain's top 100 companies enjoyed average pay and pension rises of 20 per cent in 2003, taking the value of the average CEO's remuneration package to £2.1 million.

An annual study of executive pay carried out by the Independent newspaper claims that in many cases senior members of UK boardrooms have seen their pay rocket despite the poor performance of their companies.

The 20 per cent rises can also be set against 2003's average wage increase of just 4.3 per cent.

The Independent's figures mirror research published last month by pay consultancy Independent Remuneration Solutions (IRS) that found the total remuneration awarded to the bosses of the UK's largest companies climbed an average 22 per cent a year in the five years to 2003 - a total increase of almost 170 per cent.

IRS also found that the bosses of the UK’s ten biggest companies saw their total remuneration packages rise by more than 12 times the rate of inflation in 2003.

The Independent's is also the latest piece of research to explore the link between pay and performance.

Last year, compensation consultancy, Halliwell Consulting described the link between pay and executive performance as "nonsense" after they revealed that more than four out of ten FTSE 100 companies paying 'performance-related' incentives’ to executives even if they failed to meet the expectations of their shareholders.

Then last February, an analysis by market historian David Schwartz found that there is actually an inverse relationship between pay and profitability in the UK – the more the boss gets paid, the worse the company tends to perform.

Schwartz calculated that a hypothetical investor who bought shares in all 30 sectors in 2003 would have gained higher profits by steadily avoiding the fat-cat company and flipping a coin to select another company from the same sector. Just 11 high-pay companies outperformed their low-pay competitor.

The Independent paints a similar picture: "Several executives make a return to the top 10 offenders of those whose pay is far higher than average while their returns to shareholders are all far into negative territory," it said.

The paper claims that Britain's worst-value boss last year was Rolf Stahel, the recently-departed head of the drugs group Shire Pharmaceuticals. Despite a fall in the firm's share price of more than 50 per cent over the past three years, Stahel was still deemed worthy of a 'golden goodbye' that included a one-off pension contribution of £4.3 million.

Meanwhile Michael Bailey, chief executive of catering group Compass, received a £4.2m package in 2003, despite Compass's shareholders' returns falling by nearly a third since 2001.

In third place is Sir Christopher Gent, who retired last year as chief executive of Vodafone, followed by Lord Browne, chief executive of BP and Sir Philip Watts, the ousted chairman of Shell.

So, as David Schwartz pointed out, while nobody can be certain that high pay is a sign of corporate complacency and a hint shareholders are low on the company's priority list, it is certainly a signal to canny investors to put their money elsewhere.