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?
- Total FTSE 100 Chief Executive pay has increased by 11% in the past year
- Pay for Britain’s top bosses rises 23 percent
- Top pay in UK up by 11% as workers’ wages fail to match inflation
- The fat cats are back in business
- No CEO should earn 1,000 times more than a regular employee
- Executive pay ratio regulations come before parliament
- Remuneration Committees: The New Challenges
- How does a company’s CEO pay compare to its workers’? Now you can find out.
- How to Track CEO-Worker Pay Ratios
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Press Release (15/8/18)
Reuters, Dasha Afanasieva (15/8/18)
The Guardian, Sean Farrell (15/8/18)
The Guardian, Nils Pratley (15/8/18)
The Guardian, Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati (18/3/18)
Personnel Today, Jo Faragher (11/6/18)
Critical Eye (Jan 2011)
Vox, Emily Stewart (8/4/18)
Inequality.org, Brian Wakamo (2/4/18)
Information and data
- UK’s biggest firms will have to justify pay gap between bosses and their workers
- Pay ratio tracker tool
- Corporate Governance Reform – CEO pay ratios
- FAQs on executive pay ratio reporting
- Pay Tracker: Comparing Chief Executive Officer pay in the FTSE 100 with average pay and low pay in the UK
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Press Release (10/6/18)
Bloomberg, Alicia Ritcey and Jenn Zhao
The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) (21/8/18)
Xpert HR (14/8/18)
The Equality Trust (March 2017)
- 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?