M&S braced for clash over boardroom pay

Marks & Spencer was today braced for a fresh clash with investors over boardroom pay as a succession of blue-chip firms prepare for stormy annual meetings on the issue.

The £15m (€17.97m) package for new boss Marc Bolland raised the ire of pension advisory group PIRC, which recommended a vote against its remuneration report today.

Fashion group Burberry, property firm British Land and supermarket Sainsbury's are also in the firing line as patience with soaring executive pay frays.

Tesco's investors recently set the tone with praise for Terry Leahy's stewardship of the business failing to stop almost half of shareholders voting against the remuneration report amid concerns at the high pay for the boss of its loss-making US business.

The remuneration votes are not binding, but have the potential to cause huge embarrassment - such as when oil giant Royal Dutch Shell's pay report was shot down by investors last year.

M&S has a track record of conflict with its shareholders after more than a fifth who voted last year failed to back Stuart Rose's re-election to the board, because of his dual role as executive chairman - against City best practice.

Rose agreed a 25% pay cut since luring Mr Bolland from Morrisons as his successor, although the rumbles among investors over top-level pay continue and PIRC said rewards for top brass are "highly excessive".

Shareholders who endured a dividend cut for the first time since 2000 last year are baulking at the joining deal for Mr Bolland, despite Rose insisting that the firm is paying "the market rate".

Mr Bolland gets £975,000 (€1.17m) in basic salary, an annual bonus up to 250% of salary, and an exceptional award worth 400% of salary.

In compensation for quitting his former job, he gets £1.6m (€1.91m) in cash and £1m (€1.2m) in shares for the loss of bonuses and shares vesting this year - as well as a share award worth £1m (€1.2m) and performance shares worth £3.9m (€4.67m) to compensate for shares vesting during the next two years.

M&S will claim the spotlight today but supermarket Sainsbury's is also facing shareholders amid more disquiet from PIRC over chief executive Justin King's £2.4m (€2.87m) package last year, again branded "excessive".

The bandwagon moves on to Burberry tomorrow where boss Angela Ahrendts received £6.1m (€7.3m) in salary and options although questions have been raised over whether targets for payouts are stretching enough.

While the company was a strong performer throughout the recession, pay levels have nonetheless been a niggle for investors, with 13% of shareholders refusing to back remuneration policies at last year's annual meeting.

British Land saw a far narrower squeak last year when it won the vote by a margin of two to one, but including abstentions the company failed to win a majority.

The company posted pre-tax profits of £1.13bn (€1.35bn) - up from a £3.9bn (€4.67bn) loss - for the year to March 31 as the value of its property portfolio recovered but chief executive Chris Griggs' £1.8m (€2.15m) in share options and shares is likely to attract another revolt on Friday.

M&S shareholders gathering ahead of the retailer's AGM in London expressed their criticism of Mr Bolland's pay package.

Investor Fred Fusco, of Sudbury Town, north London, said: "Executive pay is always a hot topic every year and usually I think that the levels are fair enough, but in Mr Bolland's case, it is excessive and questionable."

Fellow shareholder June Tyler, from Kingston, south west London, added disappointment at the firm's share price performance.

"Hopefully, with the new management on board, shares might rise. But they all get such vast sums of money - I can't even visualise the £15m (€18m) package that Mr Bolland is getting. Let's hope he's worth it."

But not all investors arriving at the annual meeting in London were unhappy with executive pay levels. Paul Emery, 71, from Kingsbury, north London, said: "If you want someone good, you have to pay for them.

"If Marc does what he has done for Morrisons in recent years, then he's worth the money."

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