Founder rages at easyJet investors over bonuses

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Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, yesterday set the scene for a tumultuous clash with the budget airline's board at next week's annual meeting with a fresh attack on a new £8m bonus scheme and an astonishing broadside against the shareholder Standard Life.

The Cypriot, who controls 38 per cent of the airline's shares, was enraged by the decision by the top three institutional investors to back the board's incentive plans, which could generate huge share bonuses for easyJet's top executives over the next three years.

Sir Stelios has been battling the easyJet board over the expansion of the airline's fleet. He wants the company to cut back on its acquisition of new aircraft and return cash to shareholders. The board has agreed to pay its first ever dividend this year after record profits of £248m.

EasyJet's three largest institutional shareholders, Standard Life, M&G and Sanderson, hold 17.5 per cent of the company's shares between them and are set to support the board next week. But Sir Stelios appeared to accuse Standard Life yesterday of a conflict of interest because of its role as the manager of the Airbus/EADS pension funds. He said: "I recently discovered that Standard Life is managing the EADS/Airbus pension fund of some £4.6bn. If the fees are circa 2 per cent that gives Standard Life an income stream of around £100m a year. The stake of Standard Life in easyJet is valued at about the same number. I think their shares should be excluded from any future voting on aircraft orders. We have to put an end to the culture of 'I scratch your back and you scratch mine' in this company." Standard Life refused to comment.

Sir Stelios said he was "striking a blow for small investors everywhere" as he called on the board to ensure that "bonus packages are working for shareholders and not against them". He added: "I would today approve the same bonuses if the test was a 10 per cent profit margin as when I was in charge – not the pathetic 2-5 per cent these managers have been delivering."