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James Ashton: British approach to corporate governance is catching on overseas

Vikram Pandit at Citigroup suffered an embarrassing pay vote recently in America
  • @mrjamesashton

To guns, cigarettes and whisky, Britain can add another great export: corporate governance. Readers could be forgiven today for thinking that the Barclays shareholder rebellion was the only show in town this week.

Certainly the way the bank convulsed over its pay row captured the attention. Barclays' apology was not really for coming between chief executive Bob Diamond and a hefty raid by the taxman, but rather for failing to get away with it in the eyes of shareholders.

Diamond and co aren't the only ones to feel investors' ire at moment. For a decade now, some of our blue chips have hosted the annual pantomime of protest. Shell, GlaxoSmithKline and Vodafone have all memorably taken their turn. It hasn't been clear that complaining about excessive pay and underperformance has had much of an effect. Just like Barclays chairman Marcus Agius yesterday, companies take the rap on the knuckles, poor headlines and promise to do better next time – only to lapse like an alcoholic at the first opportunity.

Now there is real evidence that corporate governance is having an effect. Once confined to Britain, the touring production is going overseas. Vikram Pandit at Citigroup suffered an embarrassing pay vote recently in America – the land of the giant salary cheque. General Electric is also under the cosh. And the corporate governance brigade, led by British activist Hermes, has made its thoughts clear about the planned succession at Deutsche Bank – a rare event in corporate Germany.

Companies don't need more pay consultants or extravagant charts that claim to plot rewards against performance. They need fewer yes men and someone senior not afraid to pipe up about an excessive pay deal internally.