Boardroom elite still commands the cash

Sep 11 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

A super-wealthy elite at top of Britain's leading companies is still raking in eye-watering salaries and compensation, even though the global economic slowdown over the past year has more generally acted as a brake on executive pay.

According to the research by The Guardian newspaper, 34 directors out of 956 in the FTSE-100 index of the UK's top companies enjoyed packages of salary, bonuses and shares of more than £5m, up from 20 directors in the previous year. Eight directors earned more than £10m and three took home more than £20m.

This compared with the average chief executive's package, which slipped slightly to £2.8m in 2007, from £2.9m earned on average in the previous year, the paper said. The amount paid to other executive directors fell from an average £1.8m to £1.4m.

The study has come as U.S research has warned that, in the current climate, boards need to be even more careful about granting their CEOs large compensation packages that could anger shareholders.

The Guardian also looked at the rewards for directors in the second tier of companies, the FTSE-250, and found eight executives earned more than £5m and 36 took home more than £3m. However, the average chief executive's pay at this level was much lower, at £1.45m.

When it came to women in the boardroom, three women earned more than £3m last year at companies inside the FTSE-350, a significant increase from five years ago when just one managed to make it above the £1m mark.

There was also a sharp increase in the number of women in the boardroom. The highest earner was Burberry's Angela Ahrendts, who earned just under £4.2m, including a bonus for joining the business.

Both Ahrendts and Pearson boss Dame Marjorie Scardino were born in the U.S and, intriguingly, the paper found that North American women tended to dominate the ranks of female high earners.

The top four best paid women in the FTSE-100 all come from North American, with the paper suggesting this was the likely result of remuneration committees judging that, to retain their talents, they needed to match the level of salaries the executives could command back home.

Directors who served on the boards of FTSE-100 companies last year earned a combined package of £979.2m, a gain of 5% compared with the previous year as the slowing economy kept wage inflation in the boardroom relatively in check.

But, just as with CEOs, there was a widening gap between the directors at this level and other directors within the blue chip index.

While there was a sharp increase in the number of executives earning more than £5m, 34 against 20 in the previous year, the number earning more than £1m fell, from 249 in 2006 to 227 last year.

While UK firms will inevitably be able to justify their largesse as simply market demand or ensuring that they can attract and retain the best top-level talent, research from the U.S has suggested boards do need to be careful how they grant CEOs large compensation packages.

The research by The Human Resource Planning Society's journal People & Strategy has argued that boards of directors worried about creating shareholder anger by granting large CEO compensation packages should craft them in such a way as to ensure link the CEO's performance measurement and rewards with the wider company financial performance.

Employees and shareholders often viewed their CEO's pay as something that set the tone for the culture the organisation was trying to create.

Pay packages therefore needed to be structured around core incentives that were already trickling down into the organisation and so send a message of "pay for performance".

Shareholders and employees also needed to be convinced that any pay package aligned with their interests, that it genuinely attracted and retained high-calibre talent, that it motivated the CEO to achieve his or her performance objectives and that it withstood public scrutiny.

The Guardian's figures add to a growing body of evidence to suggest that UK firms, despite the downturn, are still prepared to pay top-notch salaries for the "business superstars".

Research published this week by consultancy firm Deloitte in fact argued that, if anything, the downturn is making it more likely that firms will be prepared to pay to keep hold of their top talent.

While salary increases for FTSE-350 executive directors had slowed as a whole compared with last year, those at the highest level could still command a premium.

Yet the assumption at the top that you pay for what you get may not be as watertight as most of Britain's boardrooms believe, a UK study also argued last week.

The research among FTSE-100 companies by corporate remuneration consultancy Patterson Associates argued that it makes little odds what you pay your chief executive, with underperformers often as well rewarded as the best performers.

Average total pay for a FTSE-100 boss had risen by 10 per cent to £8.9m over the past year, despite a 21 per cent fall in the share index. And, while long-term incentive plans (LTIPs) were used as way of improving performance, remuneration committees more often than not used bonuses and salaries as a "filler" for underperformers, it argued.