In praise of Bart Becht’s £92m

Bart BechtThat’s right – £92m ($140m) – the sum Reckitt-Benckiser CEO Bart Becht picked up for his labours in 2009.

Actually City & Wall Street doesn’t know quite what to make of this. A big chunk of it was Becht cashing in share options over the years and there’s no doubt that R-B’s share price has produced a stellar performance, doubling in the last two years and rising from £6 ($9) in 1999 when Reckitt and Benckiser came together to over £36 ($55) today.
And he’s just put £100m ($152m) in a charitable trust and he’s a welcome reminder to the corporate world that energetic and clever marketing can build fortunes (including his) and…

But even so he regularly picks up over £20m ($31m) in salary these days which does invite the question, should paid company executives pick up the kind of money more usually associated with successful entrepreneurs who risk their own?
Actually really successful entrepreneurs, the ones who pick up Becht-style rewards, don’t usually use their own money at all (the sums are just too big) although they almost certainly did in the first place to get their businesses started, like Sir Richard Branson or Sir James Dyson.

Then there are hybrids like WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell (if he’ll excuse the expression) who began the company with their own resources (in Sorrell’s case he bought an off the shelf company called Wire and Plastic Products) before turning to banks and stock market investors to grow the business.
But Becht is a company manager pure and simple and it’s pretty clear that the rewards he’s now earning are silly; nobody needs that much money (hence the charitable trust) and he earns a huge multiple of anyone else in the company although one assumes that they labour almost as mightily.

From City & Wall Street’s perspective it’s a shame that the focus on the swag will deflect attention from R-B’s spirited pursuit of FMCG giants Procter & Gamble and Unilever and commitment to consistent (if occasionally raucous) advertising and marketing.

Big investors in the company probably won’t mind his earnings as they’ve made a lot of money too. Although, in the current climate where Richard Lambert, the boss of Britain’s industry body the CB1, recently called high-earning bosses “aliens”, they’ll probably find them embarrassing.
So are we really praising Bart Becht?

Au fin de la jour we are, because at least the bloke runs a company that makes and sells things rather than pushing dodgy collateralized debt obligations around an unsuspecting world.

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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.