/ 17 May 2013

Shareholders make their voices heard

After a worker strike that affected bus services
After a worker strike that affected bus services

Shareholders staged protests at a string of company meetings in London last week, including Aviva, National Express and ­Tullett Prebon, reviving memories of last year's "shareholder spring".

Ocado, the online grocery retailer, also suffered a shareholder backlash over executive pay after almost a quarter failed to back the company's remuneration proposals.

Multinational insurance company Aviva, which had its pay report voted down at last year's annual meeting and lost its chief executive Andrew Moss days later, failed to stem another revolt with more than 10% voting against its pay polices. One investor stormed the stage where the new management team was sitting, waving a banner that read "Aviva are crap", according to reports.

But online bookmaker William Hill achieved near unanimous support for its pay policies, in contrast to 2012 when a £1.2-million retention bonus for chief executive Ralph Topping failed to gain the support of half of the shareholders.

Last year's rebellions at Aviva and William Hill came to encapsulate the revolt against excessive pay that was dubbed the shareholder spring.

Protests took place at other companies last week, including money broker Tullett Prebon — which is run by City of London veteran Terry Smith — where the proportion of investors failing to support the remuneration report rose to 28% from 18% a year ago, when deliberate abstentions are included.

At multinational transport company National Express — where officials from the Teamster union in the United States protested about the rights of its North American workers — 31% of investors failed to back the remuneration report, which had received near unanimous backing last year.

Sir Andrew Foster, head of its remuneration committee, also felt the wrath of investors, gaining the backing of just 92% of shareholders, far from the near 100% support that most company directors expect to receive. National Express said it would engage with shareholders to listen to their concerns.

At Aviva, where a new chairperson, John McFarlane, and new chief executive, Mark Wilson, have been installed since last year's meeting, investors have been frustrated by the decision to cut the dividend this year.

Wilson told shareholders: "You sent us a clear message about pay for performance or, more specifically, pay for underperformance. I have not only heard your message but I agree with it." — © Guardian News & Media 2013