Link between bosses' pay and financial performance is negligible according to new research
The link between what bosses are paid and a company’s financial performance is “negligible”, new research finds.
The median pay for chief executives at Britain’s 350 biggest companies was £1.9m in 2014 – a rise of 82% in 11 years – the study by Lancaster University Management School found.
However, performance as measured by return on capital invested was less than 1% during that period. The report’s authors said the findings suggested a “material disconnect”.
The study, commissioned by the investment association CFA UK, said the increase in executive remuneration was largely driven by performance-based pay.
It also said the metrics typically used to gauge company performance, such as total shareholder return and earnings per share growth, were too short termist.
The research suggested the need for “a more refined discussion about the type of performance measures employed” rather than remuneration levels and performance-related pay arrangements alone.
Will Goodhart, head of CFA UK, said: “Too few of today’s popular approaches … genuinely align senior executives’ pay with the economic value that they create.”
Chief executives of companies in the health care sector were the best paid, on an average of £2.9m, with those in the “basic materials” and oil and gas sectors on £2.2m, and telecommunications at £2.1m.
Bosses in the lowest-paid sectors included technology on £1.3m and industrials (£1.1m), which the authors said were “hardly trivial amounts but significantly lower nonetheless”.
The study comes after government outlined its plans to make companies justify high levels of executive pay in November.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted to stop an “irresponsible minority” of companies acting badly and ensure “everybody plays by the same rules”.
Among the measures under consideration are pay ratios, which would show the gap in earnings between the chief executive and an average employee.
Shareholders would also be handed more powers to vote against bosses’ pay – although an earlier proposal to force companies to put workers on boards was dropped.
According to a recent study by Vlerick Business School, UK executive pay is the most generous in Europe. Chief executives are paid on average 50% more than in Germany, the next best-paying country.
However, shareholders are increasingly hitting out at excessive pay, with investors in BP, Smith & Nephew and Anglo American all voting against deals this year. is critical of high executive pay
Helena Morrissey, chair of Newton Investment Management who was guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, said lessons from the financial crisis had not been learned.
“Despite acknowledging that group-think played a big role in causing the financial crisis, many of those at the top seem to have either been oblivious or dismissive of the risks of the widening gulf,” she said.
“Executive pay has kept on rising, and leaders have behaved as if it were business as usual.”
Mrs Morrissey added that the votes for Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump could not be dismissed as populism, and that too many business and political leaders operated in “a narrow comfort zone”.
The Brexit supporter described her “public humiliation” at one meeting after the referendum where she was accused by a colleague of ruining the economy for the next decade: “I was regarded as something of a heretic. The system doesn’t encourage people to challenge.”