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?
There is a growing consensus amongst the political parties in the UK that something needs to be done to end the huge pay rises of senior executives. According to the High Pay Commission, directors of FTSE 100 companies saw their remuneration packages rise by 49% in 2010. Average private-sector employees’ pay, by contrast, rose by a mere 2.7% (below the CPI rate of inflation for 2010 of 3.3% and well below the RPI inflation rate of 4.6%), with many people’s wages remaining frozen, especially in the public sector. (See Directing directors’ pay.) In 1979 the top 0.1% took home 1.3% of GDP; today the figure is 7%.
But agreeing that something needs to be done, does not mean that the parties agree on what to do. The Prime Minister, reflecting the views of Conservative ministers, has called for binding shareholder votes on top executives’ pay. The Liberal Democrats go further and are urging remuneration committees to be opened up to independent figures who would guard against the cosy arrangement whereby company heads set each other’s pay. The Labour Party is calling for worker representation on remuneration committees, simplifying remuneration packages into salary and just one performance-related element, and publishing tables of how much more bosses earn than various other groups of employees in the company.
So what measures are likely to be the most successful in reining in executive pay and what are the drawbacks of each measure? The following articles consider the problem and the proposals.
Parties draw up battle lines over excessive executive pay Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt (9/1/12)
David Cameron’s plans for executive pay may not end spiralling bonuses Guardian, Jill Treanor (8/1/12)
Executive pay: what would Margaret Thatcher have done? Guardian Politics Blog, Michael White (9/1/12)
Businesses tell the PM he’s wrong about ‘fat cat’ pay Independent, Nigel Morris (9/1/12)
Directors’ pay is not the Government’s business The Telegraph, Telegraph View (9/1/12)
I’ll end merry go round of bosses’ pay, says David Cameron Scotsman (9/1/12)
Find a place at the table for public interest directors Scotsman, leader (9/1/12)
Cameron vows executive pay crackdown Financial Times, George Parker (9/1/12)
Q&A: Voting on executive pay BBC News (8/1/12)
Will shareholders crack down on executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (8/1/12)
Why didn’t investors stop high executive pay? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/1/12)
Cheques With Balances: why tackling high pay is in the national interest Final report of the High Pay Commission (22/11/11)
- Why has the remuneration of top executives risen so much faster than average pay?
- What market failures are there in the determination of executive pay?
- What insights can the theory of oligopoly give into the determination of executive pay?
- Compare the proposals of the three main parties in the UK for tackling excessive executive pay?
- To what extent is it in the interests of shareholders to curb executive pay?
- Why may it be difficult to measure the marginal productivity of senior executives?
- To what extent would greater transparency about pay awards help to curb their size?
- What moral hazards are involved in giving large increases in remuneration to senior executives?
Pay rises have been few and far between since the onset of recession – at least that’s the case for most workers. Pay for private-sector workers rose by 2.7% on average over the past year and for many in the public sector there were pay freezes. But, one group did considerably better: directors. According to the Incomes Data Services (IDS), over the past year, the average pay of the directors of the FTSE 100 companies has increased by almost 50%. Not bad for the aftermath of a recession! Much of the increase in overall pay for directors came from higher bonuses; they rose on average by 23% from £737,000 in 2010 to £906,000 this year.
Unsurprisingly, politicians from all sides have commented on the data – David Cameron said the report was ‘concerning’ and has called for the larger companies to become more transparent about how they set executive pay. How much difference transparency will make is debatable. However, Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive of WPP defended these pay rises, by comparing the pay of directors of UK companies with their counterparts in other parts of the world.
However, this defence is unlikely to make the average person feel any better, as for most people, their overall standard of living has fallen. With CPI inflation at 3.3% in 2010 (and RPI inflation at 4.6%) a person receiving the average private-sector pay rise of 2.7% was worse off; with a pay freeze they would be considerably worse off. Essentially, buying power has fallen, as people’s incomes can purchase them fewer and fewer goods.
However, the data have given David Cameron an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of more women executives. He believes that more women at the top of the big companies and hence in the boardroom would have a positive effect on pay restraint. However, this was met with some skepticism. The following podcasts and articles consider this issue.
Podcasts and webcasts
Directors’ pay rose 50% in past year BBC News, Emma Simpson (28/10/11)
‘Spectacular’ share payouts for executives BBC Today Programme, Steve Tatton of Income Data Services (29/10/11)
Sir Martin Sorrell defends top pay BBC Today Programme, Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief executive of WPP (28/10/11)
‘A closed little club’ sets executive pay BBC Today Programme, John Purcell and Deborah Hargreaves (28/10/11)
Cameron says Executive pay in U.K. is ‘Issue of concern’ after 49% advance Bloomberg, Thomas Penny (28/10/11)
Directors’ pay rose 50% in last year, says IDS report BBC News (28/10/11)
Cameron ties top pay to women executives issue Financial Times, Jim Pickard and Brian Groom (28/10/11)
£4m advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell defends rising executive pay Guardian, Jill Treanor and Mark Sweney (28/10/11)
Executive pay soars while the young poor face freefall: where is Labour? Guardian, Polly Toynbee (28/10/11)
My pay is very low, moans advertising tycoon with a basic salary of £1 MILLION a year Mail Online, Jason Groves and Rupert Steiner (29/10/11)
More women directors will rein in excessive pay, says David Cameron Guardian, Nicholas Watt (28/10/11)
David Cameron and Nick Clegg criticise directors’ ‘50% pay rise’ BBC News (28/10/11)
The FTSE fat cats are purring over their pay but that’s good for the UK The Telegraph, Damian Reece (28/10/11)
IDS press release
FTSE 100 directors get 49% increase in total earnings Incomes Data Services (26/10/11)
- What are the arguments supporting such high pay for the Directors of large UK companies?
- How are wages set in a) perfectly and b) Imperfectly competitive markets?
- Why is the average person worse off, despite pay rises of 2.5%?
- Why does David Cameron believe that more women in the boardroom would act to restrict pay rises?
- To what extent do you think that more transparency in setting pay would improve the system of determining executive pay?
- Do senior executives need to be paid millions of pounds per year to do a good job? How would you set about finding the evidence to answer this question?
- Is the high pay of senior executives a ‘market’ rate of pay or is it the result of oligopolistic collusion between the remuneration committees of large companies (a form of ‘closed shop’)?
- What would be the effect over time on executive pay of remuneration committees basing their recommendations on the top 50% of pay rates in comparable companies?