French execs are Europe's fattest cats


British bosses have come in for considerable flak over the past few years for their burgeoning pay packets, but outraged workers may have attacking the wrong target all along. Because according to a new poll, it is French executives who are the fat-cats of Europe.

A survey in US magazine Fortune has found that half of the top 20 highest paid corporate executives in Europe last year were running French companies.

In what reads like a who's who of Parisien corporate high-flyers, the poll puts Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of French automotive manufacturer Renault at the top of the list, who took home $45.5m (£22.2m) last year thanks to an eye-watering $43m worth of share options.

The poll also makes clear that that does not include the millions he gets for running Japan's Nissan, which is also owned by Renault.

His bulging remuneration is more than seven times the size of his 2005 package and more than double that of the second placed chief executive, Jean-Paul Agon of L'Oreal, on $19.3 million, said Fortune.

Apart from the French, the 20 included three Italians, two Swiss and just two British chief executives – Arun Sarin of Vodafone, who was fourth on the list with $15.2m, and Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland, who came in at number 16 with a pay package of $7.8m.

The other French bosses on the list were at the helms of AXA, Total, Societe General, Vinci, Air Liquide, Bouygues, Danone and Alstom.

Belinda Hudson, of Mercer's executive-compensation practice in London, told CNN the reason for the disparity was that continental European countries were playing catch-up with Britain, where pay scandals in the 1990s had led to greater transparency.

France, by comparison, remained wedded to stock options for tax and other reasons, and companies did not face the same institutional-investor pressure.