WPP: did shareholders look before the LEAP?

WPP, whose chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell last year caused headlines for a £70m pay package, has announced its final investment performance figures for its controversial long term incentive scheme, LEAP.

The WPP figures show that Sir Martin Sorrell would receive £41.5m from the LEAP scheme for 2016 – compared with their value of 20.69m when the shares were granted in 2012. Sorrell’s total pay for 2016 will be disclosed in its annual report to be published later this year.

WPP indicated that other investors had gained with the company outperforming the FTSE 100 index – while the index rose 28.2%, WPP’s shares rose 168.8% in this period – a six times greater increase. This would have meant that if  £1,000 had been invested in WPP in 2012 the company this would have increased to £2,688 by the end of 2016 compared with £1,282 if invested in the FTSE 100, WPP said.

No further awards have been made under the LEAP scheme since 2012 when it was replaced by a less generous incentive plan approved by shareholders in 2013.  Sorrell’s large pay package last year was partly due to the pay out he had received under the LEAP scheme.

Martin Sorrell WPP high pay

Manifest’s Say on Pay analysis has consistently marked WPP’s pay governance pay at grade E (with the lowest grade being F). Manifest’s 2016 analysis noted that historic pay-out levels, when viewed against company performance, suggested that long-term incentive plan targets were not stretching and that remuneration packages were excessively weighted towards variable pay.

Although WPP’s remuneration report was passed at its AGM last June, there has been significant dissent in recent years – 33.5% in 2016 and 22.2% in 2015. Responsible investment pressure group, ShareAction campaigned for individual pension scheme members to urge their trustees to vote against the report on the basis on inequality. The group highlighted that £70m would take someone earning the living wage nearly 4,394 years to earn. The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum also advised its 70 member funds to vote against WPP’s remuneration report last year.

Since then investor groups, like the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, have advised their members to take a tougher stance in executive remuneration votes and fund managers such as BlackRock have indicated they would be doing just that in their 2017 voting.

Following its 2016 AGM WPP acknowledged that there was concern about executive remuneration and said it would continue to engage with investors ahead of the next binding remuneration policy vote this year.

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