The median pay of chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies rose 11% in 2017 to £3.93 million per year, according to figures released by the High Pay Centre. By contrast, the median pay of full-time workers rose by just 2%. Given two huge pay increases for the CEOs of Persimmon and Melrose Industries of £47.1 million and £42.8 million respectively, the mean CEO pay rose even more – by 23%, from £4.58 million in 2016 to £5.66 million in 2017. This brings the ratio of the mean pay of FTSE 100 CEOs to that of their employees to 145:1. In 2000, the ratio was around 45:1.
These huge pay increases are despite criticisms from shareholders and the government over excessive boardroom pay awards and the desire for more transparency. In fact, under new legislation, companies with more than 250 employees must publish the ratio of the CEO’s total remuneration to the full-time equivalent pay of their UK employees on the 25th, 50th (median) and 75th percentiles. The annual figures will be for pay starting from the financial year beginning in 2019, which for most companies would mean the year from April 2019 to April 2020. Such a system has been introduced in the USA this year.
So why has the gap in pay widened so much? One reason is that there is no formal mechanism whereby workers can apply downward pressure on such awards. Although Theresa May, in her campaign to become Prime Minister in 2016, promised to put workers on company boards, the government has since abandoned the idea.
Executive pay is awarded by remuneration committees. Membership of such committees consists of independent non-executive directors, but their degree of independence has frequently been called into question and there has been much criticism of such committees being influenced by their highest paying competitors or peers. This has had the effect of ratcheting up executive pay.
Then there is the question of the non-salary element in executive pay. The incentive and bonus payments are often linked to the short-term performance of the company, as reflected in, for example, the company’s share price. In a period when share prices in general rise rapidly – as we have seen over the past two years – executive pay tends to rise rapidly too. A frequent criticism of large UK businesses is that they have been too short-termist. What is more, bonuses are often paid despite poor performance.
There has been some move in recent years to make incentive pay linked more to long-term performance, but this has still led to many CEOs getting large pay increases despite lack-lustre long-term performance.
Then there is the question of shareholders and their influence on executive pay. Despite protests by many smaller shareholders, a large proportion of shares are owned by investment funds and their managers are often only too happy to vote through large executive pay increases at shareholder meetings.
So, while the pressures for containing the rise in executive pay remain small, the pay gap is likely to continue to widen. This raises the whole question of a society becoming increasingly divided between the few at the top and a large number of people ‘just getting by’ – or not even that. Will this make society even more fractured and ill at ease with itself?
Information and data
- How would you set about establishing whether CEOs’ pay is related to their marginal revenue product?
- To what extent is executive pay a reflection of oligopolistic/oligopsonistic behaviour?
- In what ways can game theory shed light on the process of setting the remuneration packages of CEOs? Is there a Nash equilibrium?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of linking senior executives’ remuneration to (a) short-term company performance; (b) long-term company performance?
- What is/are the best indicator(s) of long-term company performance for determining the worth of senior executives?
- Consider the arguments for and against capping the ratio of CEOs’ remuneration to a particular ratio of either the mean or median pay of employees. What particular ratio might be worth considering for such a cap?
Short-termism is a problem which has dogged British firms and is part of the explanation of low investment in the UK. Shareholders, many of which are large pension funds and other financial institutions, are more concerned with short-term returns than long-term growth and productivity. Likewise, senior managers’ rewards are often linked to short-term performance rather than the long-term health of the company.
But the stakeholders in companies extend well beyond owners and senior managers. Workers, consumers, suppliers, local residents and the country as a whole are all stakeholders in companies.
So is the current model of capitalism fit for purpose? According to the new May government, workers and consumers should be represented on the boards of major British companies. The Personnel Today article quotes Theresa May as saying:
‘The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions. In practice, they are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough.
We’re going to change that system – and we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but workers as well.’
This model is not new. Many countries, such as France and Germany, have had worker representatives on boards for many years. There the focus is often less on short-term profit maximisation and more on the long-term performance of the company in terms of a range of indicators.
Extending this model to stakeholder groups more generally could see companies taking broader social objectives into account. And the number of companies which put corporate social responsibility high on their agenda could increase significantly.
And this approach can ultimately bring better returns to shareholders. As the first The Conversation article below states:
This is something that research into a ‘Relational Company’ model has found – by putting the interests of all stakeholders at the heart of their decision making, companies can become more competitive, stable and successful. Ultimately, this will generate greater returns for shareholders.
While CSR has become mainstream in terms of the public face of some large corporations, it has tended to be one of the first things to be cut when economic growth weakens. The findings from Business in the Community’s 2016 Corporate Responsibility Index suggest that many firms are considering how corporate responsibility can positively affect profits. However, it remains the case that there are still many firms and consumers that care relatively little about the social or natural environment. Indeed, each year, fewer companies take part in the CR Index. In 2016 there were 43 firms; in 2015, 68 firms; in 2014, 97 firms; in 2013, 126 firms.
In addition to promising to give greater voice to stakeholder groups, Mrs May has also said that she intends to curb executive pay. Shareholders will be given binding powers to block executive remuneration packages. But whether shareholders are best placed to do this questionable. If shareholders’ interests are the short-term returns on their investment, then they may well approve of linking executive remuneration to short-term returns rather than on the long-term health of the company or its role in society more generally.
When leaders come to power, they often make promises that are never fulfilled. Time will tell whether the new government will make radical changes to capitalism in the UK or whether a move to greater stakeholder power will remain merely an aspiration.
Will Theresa May break from Thatcherism and transform business? The Conversation, Arad Reisberg (19/7/16)
Democratise companies to rein in excessive banker bonuses The Conversation, Prem Sikka (14/3/16)
Theresa May promises worker representatives on boards Personnel Today, Rob Moss (11/7/16)
If Theresa May is serious about inequality she’ll ditch Osbornomics The Guardian, Mariana Mazzucato and Michael Jacobs (19/7/16)
Theresa May should beware of imitating the German model Financial Times, Ursula Weidenfeld (12/7/16)
- To what extent is the pursuit of maximum short-term profits in the interests of (a) shareholders; (b) consumers; (c) workers; (d) suppliers; (e) society generally; (f) the environment?
- How could British industry be restructured so as to encourage a greater proportion of GDP being devoted to investment?
- How would greater flexibility in labour markets affect the perspectives on company performance of worker representatives on boards?
- How does worker representation in capitalism work in Germany? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? (See the panel in the Personnel Today article and the Financial Times article.)
- What do you understand by ‘industrial policy’? How can it be used to increase investment, productivity, growth and the pursuit of broader stakeholder interests?
When Kraft took over Cadbury, it was seen as a large take-over, but its size pales in comparison to the potential takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. However, having made two offers for the UK drugs firm, the US company has been rejected twice, saying the terms of the offer were ‘inadequate, substantially undervalue AstraZeneca and are not a basis on which to engage with Pfizer.’
Pfizer initially made an offer of £46.61 per share, valuing the company at £58.5bn, but this latest offer increased the share price to around £50 and raised the company value to £63bn. The rejection was relatively swift and the price still too low, though analysts are suggesting that a price closer to £53 may tempt shareholders. At the moment the negotiations between these two giants remain ‘friendly’, but with this second offer being rejected by the Board, there are now concerns that the takeover could become ‘hostile’ with Pfizer going directly to shareholders. Indeed one investor has said:
We were very keen that the two boards actually get around the table and disucss the bid … I’m never very keen when companies just dismiss things and don’t allow shareholders to take a decision on it … The key thing is that these businesses get talking to each other so they can hammer out a deal.
Following the second offer, shares in AstraZeneca rose by 10p, as the debate continued as to whether such a take-over would be good or bad for British jobs.
Cadbury was seen as a jewel in the crown of British industry and the same can be said of AstraZeneca, especially with the growing importance placed on the Science sector in the UK. While Pfizer has now given the British government further assurances about protection for Britain’s science base, there are still concerns about what this take-over would mean for British jobs. Pfizer has said that 20% of the company’s workforce in research and development would work in the UK and the planned R&D base in Cambridge would still go ahead. However, asset-stripping is a phrase that has been thrown around, based on Pfizer’s previous take-overs and, based on this history, many are suggesting that any assurances made by Pfizer will be pointless. In particular, Allan Black from the GMB union said:
Similar undertakings were given by US multinationals before which have proved to be worthless.
This was echoed by Lord Sainsbury who commented that any assurances made by Pfizer would be ‘frankly meaningless’. However, Vince Cable seems more confident about the consequences for British industry and said:
We’ve now received some assurances from the company that they will strengthen the British science base, they will protect British manufacturing … We need to look at that in detail, we need to look at the small print, we need to establish that it is binding, but as far as it goes, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, it is welcome and encouraging.
We therefore seem to have a tale of two stories. On the one hand, the assurances of a US company that British jobs and its science base will be protected, but on the other hand, suggestions that we should take Pfizer’s assurances with a pinch of salt and that any take-over could be ‘devastating’. The truth of the matter will only be known if and when the take-over goes ahead and perhaps more importantly, whether it remains friendly and co-operative or does indeed go ‘hostile’. The following articles consider this medical take-over between giants.
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer bid as US Pharma giant courts UK government The Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Sean Farrell (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects new Pfizer offer BBC News (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca Pfizer: major shareholder urges talks The Telegraph, Denise Roland (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer’s raised bid of 63 billion pounds Reuters (2/5/14)
Pfizer-AstraZeneca offer: IoD warns intervention ‘disastrous’ for Britain. The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (2/5/14)
Pfizer enters takeover discussions with AstraZeneca, sources say Wall Street Journal (2/5/14)
Exclusive: Pfizer insider warns that takeover of AstraZeneca could be ‘devastating’ Independent, Jim Armitage and Chris Green (2/5/14)
The Cadbury deal: how it changed takeovers BBC News, Ben Morris (2/5/14)
Pfizer set to make higher bid for AstraZeneca The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (1/5/14)
The UK’s response to Pfizer’s takeover bid is incoherent and misguided The Guardian, Larry Elliott (4/5/14)
- What type of take-over would this be classified as? Explain your answer.
- What would occur if the take-over became ‘hostile’?
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why share prices in AstraZeneca went up by 10p on the day the second offer was made.
- How would such a take-over affect British jobs?
- Explain how this proposed take-over could (a) boost British R&D in science and (b) harm British R&D in science.
- To what extent might there be concerns from the competition authorities were this take-over to go ahead? How might such a takeover affect Pfizer’s market share and hence its ability to charge a high price?
Few people have £18bn worth of funds to spend. But someone that does is Warren Buffett and a Brazilian firm, who look set to purchase Heinz for this sum. Heinz, known for things like baked beans and ketchup already has an exceptionally strong brand and is cash rich – these are two ingredients which Warren Buffett likes and have undoubtedly played their part in securing what looks to be a tasty deal.
The company’s Board has already approved the deal, but shareholders still need to have their say and have been offered $72.50 per share. 650 million bottles of Heinz ketchup are sold every year and its baked beans, at the least in the UK, are second to none. Products like this have given Heinz its global brand name and have provided the opportunity to shareholders to make significant gains. Its Chairman said:
The Heinz brand is one of the most respected brands in the global food industry and this historic transaction provides tremendous value to Heinz shareolders.
This statement was certainly reciprocated by Warren Buffett when he spoke to CNBC, saying:
It is our kind of company … I’ve sampled it many times … Anytime we see a deal is attractive and it’s our kind of business and we’ve got the money, I’m ready to do.
The deal therefore looks to be profitable to both sides, but is there more to it? An investigation has already been launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission as to whether information about this purchase was leaked early and was used to make money. Insider trading occurs when someone is given information early about a merger such as the one described above. They then use this information, before it is made public, to buy up a company’s stock. It is incredibly difficult to prosecute and huge amounts of money can be made by hedge funds, amongst others. This is certainly one aspect of the deal to keep your eye on.
So, what does the future hold for Warren Buffett and Heinz? Buffett likes to extract extra value from companies he purchases and has in the past split up his businesses to create separate trading companies. However, given his taste for ketchup and his appreciation for strong global brands, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a change to the recipe of any of the well-known products. The following articles consider the takeover and the case of insider trading.
Will Buffet ‘squeeze value’ from Heinz BBC News (15/2/13)
Heinz-Buffett deal: will anyone spill the beans on insider trading? The Guardian, Heidi Moore (15/2/13)
Heinz bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $28bn BBC News (14/2/13)
Traders sued over Heinz share bets Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/2/13)
Heinz deal brings it back to its roots Financial Times, Alan Rappeport, Dan McCrum and Anoushka Sakoui (14/2/13)
Beanz means Buffet: Heinz purchased in $28bn takeover The Guardian, Dominic Rush (14/2/13)
US SEC sues over Heinz option trading before buyout Reuters (15/2/13)
Warren Buffet and Brazil’s ‘Sage’ Jorge Leman strike £18bn Heinz deal The Telegraph, Richard Blackden (15/2/13)
- What type of take-over would you class this as?
- Consider the Boston matrix – in which category would you place Heinz when you think about its market share and market growth?
- Why is a company that has a global brand and that is cash rich so tempting?
- Given your answer to question 3, why have other investors not taken an interest in purchasing Heinz?
- If you were a shareholder in Heinz, what factors would you consider when deciding whether or not to vote for the takeover?
- What growth strategy has Heinz used to establish its current position in the global market place?
- What is insider trading? Explain how early information can be used to make money in the case of Heinz.
- Explain how the share price of $72.50 is set. How does the market have a role?
Executive pay has been a contentious issue in recent years, with bankers’ bonuses stealing many headlines. Shareholders have been voicing their opinions on bonuses paid to top executives and the management teams at the banks in question are unlikely to be too pleased with the turn of events.
Nearly one third of shareholders from Credit Suisse opposed the bonuses that were set out to be paid to their executives; more than 50% of shareholders from Citigroup rejected the plan to pay their Chief Executive £9.2m for 2011 and, at the end of April, almost a third of shareholders at Barclays refused to support the bank’s pay awards. Barclay’s Chief Executive was to be paid £17.7m, but this revolt is just another indication of how the tide is turning against having to pay big bonuses to retain the best staff.
Bonuses are essentially there to reward good performance. For example, if a company or bank achieves higher than expected profits, you may support a bonus for the key individuals who achieved this. However, in the case of Barclays, the £17.7m package for the Chief Executive was to be paid, despite him saying that his bank’s performance in 2011 was ‘unacceptable’. I wonder what bonus might have been suggested had the performance been ‘acceptable’?
Revolts over big bonuses are not a new thing for 2012. Over the past few years, more and more resentment has been growing for the huge pay increases received by top managers. Many big companies around the world have seen shareholder revolts and this could mean the tide is beginning to turn on big bonuses. The following articles consider this contentious issue.
Credit Suisse and Barclays investors revolt over pay Reuters, Matt Scuffham and Katharina Bart (27/4/12)
Aviva rocked by shareholder rebellion over pay Guardian, Jill Treanor and Julia Kollewe (3/5/12)
Tide turns on bank bonuses as revolt hits UK Scotsman, Bill Jamieson and Tom Peterkin (28/4/12)
Barclays AGM: ‘We can’t pay zero bonuses, the consequences would be dire’ Telegraph, Harry Wilson (27/4/12)
Barclays shareholders have spoken. The overpaid must listen Guardian, Chuka Umunna (27/4/12)
Barclays suffers executive pay backlash Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (27/4/12)
Aviva to review pay policy amid investor concerns Wall Street Journal, Jessica Hodgson and Vladimir Guevarra (30/4/12)
UBS faces shareholder opposition over executive pay New York Times, Julia Werdigier (3/5/12)
Low returns stir Europe-wide revolt on bankers’ pay Reuters, Steve Slater and Sinead Cruise (25/4/12)
Barclays targeted over bonuses Telegraph, Louise Peacock (9/4/12)
UBS gets stinging rebuke from shareholders on pay Reuters, Katharina Bart (3/5/12)
Vince Cable urges investors to keep up the pressure on executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor (4/5/12)
- To what extent do you think high bonuses are the most important variable to a company in retaining the best staff?
- In The Telegraph article by Harry Wilson, Barclays’ Chairman is quoted as saying: ‘We can’t pay zero bonuses, the consequences would be dire’. What would be the consequences if Barclays did pay zero bonuses?
- What would be the consequence if all UK firms paid zero bonuses?
- How would smaller bonuses affect shareholder dividends?
- The Guardian article by Chuka Umunna says that ‘excessive pay and rewards for failure are bad for shareholders, the economy and society.’ Why is this?
- Should those receiving big bonuses be forced to give them up, if their company has under-performed?
- What are the main arguments for and against paying out big bonuses?