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Sorrell’s legacy may be a change in the rules giving shareholders control of CEO pay

Every year the battle over Sir Martin Sorrell’s pay comes round – this year it looks as though he’ll get at least £60m and maybe as much as £70m – and, so far at least, he’s won every round.

This year may be hotter than usual as a bunch of FTSE100 bosses are in the dock for trousering huge rewards – £13.8m in the recent case of BP’s Bob Dudley – for pretty average performance. Dudley has had to cope with a string of crises, latterly the falling oil price, but he’s also the man who bet a lot of BP’s future on Russia’s Rosneft and that doesn’t look too smart.

Sorrell (below) has come out fighting (what did you expect?) saying: “Most of my wealth, if not all of it, is and has been for the last 31 years tied up in the success of WPP. So if WPP does well, I do well, and others in the company do well. If we do badly, we suffer.”
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Also: “Over the past four or five years, the company’s market cap has grown by about £10 billion. So if it’s our nostra culpa (think that should be mea) for having a successful company..I make no apologies for that. The better the results, the better the people do.”

Some big shareholders may well vote against Sorrell’s pay at WPP’s AGM but these votes aren’t binding. A majority voted against Dudley but he’ll still get his money. Vince Cable, business secretary in the last government, wanted to make them binding but was talked out of it (or George Osborne was).

One of Sorrell’s multifarious legacies may be the belated recognition that shareholders do own the company and their views should be acted on.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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