WPP Investors Rebel Over Executive Incentive Scheme

02 April 2004

WPP Group's five-year £112.5 million ($208.85m; €169.07m) compensation plan for senior executives is headed for trouble.

Manning a barricade of overturned Bentleys and emptied Dom Perignon crates are two powerful investor groups, the Pensions Investments Research Consultants and the Association of British Insurers. Both are opposed to WPP's self-directed largesse.

The proposed plan -- which requires the green light from a majority of shareholders at next week's annual meeting -- is results-based. If certain self-imposed targets are met, the scheme could see WPP's top nineteen executives collect £112.5m between them, of which chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell's share would be a cool £44m.

PIRC last week advised shareholders to vote against the plan; and the ABI has issued what it calls a 'red top' alert -- its most serious warning to members that something is amiss. It avers the payout plan was introduced too quickly and without adequate shareholder dialogue.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper earlier this week, ABI head of investment affairs Peter Montagnon said: "There is very serious opposition out there. And we would suggest that the company consider its position with regard to this scheme. The ball is very much in its court."

Shareholder pressure has already forced Sorrell to trim his three year rolling contract.

STOP PRESS (Friday, 09.22 GMT)
Today's Financial Times reports that WPP Group has bowed to shareholder pressure to consult on and revise its proposed executive incentive scheme. Accordingly, the company has postponed the extraordinary general meeting called for April 7. The meeting to endorse the scheme will now take place on April 16.

Leading investors such as Legal and General, Scottish Widows and Insight Investment all welcomed the move.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff