James Moore: Shareholder spring? It was just a cynical attempt to keep Vince Cable at bay

Outlook: Companies should put some of the money they give to their executives back where it belongs... in the pockets of shareholders
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The Independent Online

Phew. That was quite an AGM season, wasn't it? Remuneration reports voted down, chief executives of FTSE 100 companies quitting soon after, noisy protests outside meetings... No wonder people dubbed it the "shareholder spring".

But wait just a second. That grandiose title – and I admit to falling into the trap of using it – was always a little crass. The Arab Spring was named after youthful and idealistic protesters who stood in front of bullets in an attempt to get democracy. The shareholder spring? That involved a few City institutions finally exercising votes that they'd had for years but were too complacent to use. Its aims weren't so much idealistic as they were cynical. Some of those institutions were only spurred into action because that nasty Business Secretary, Vince Cable, threatened to force their hands.

Over the next few weeks those institutions will be meeting members of remuneration committees. "Cool it," they'll urge, although whether they will be heard is harder to say.

Just look at the response to even Aviva's frankly rather surreal attempt to award its (now) former chief executive Andrew Moss a pay rise when the shares were falling off a cliff. The chairman of its remuneration committee claimed the rise was "in shareholders' interests".

You'll hear the same said about even the craziest packages. Packages which are, in reality, economically illiterate. How can showering executives with huge bonuses for treading water – if that – be considered otherwise?

A very senior figure at one of the more progressive fund managers told me that one of the problems facing non-executive directors is that they receive a different opinion on what to do about the current situation from each shareholder they speak to. And that commentators offer criticism but not solutions. So here is one. Pay less. Companies should put some of the money they give to their executives back where it belongs: in the pockets of shareholders who provide the capital for them to run their businesses (and who put that capital at risk). That's cost-cutting no one could object to.

Second, performance targets should be reformed to make them tougher, and they should be published. Currently bonuses are paid seemingly as of right for little better than mediocrity. In a sane world, they should be conspicuous not by their size but by their rarity.

Finally, it should be taken as read that when shareholders suffer, so should bosses.

This need not be cloud cuckoo land. Making it happen should actually be seen as part of the fiduciary duty of non-executive directors. And of the fund managers who hold their voting power by dint of the fact that they steward the savings of millions of small investors who lose a small part of their investments each time executive pay is increased.

Sadly, too many fund managers are part of the problem rather than the solution. Until that changes we should do away with the excitable talk of a "shareholder spring".

Pru's new man Manduca faces a culture crisis

Goodbye Harvey McGrath. Prudential's chairman steps down on 2 July in favour of the man originally charged with finding his successor.

Paul Manduca, a former fund manager and City insider, certainly satisfies the Financial Services Authority's demand that people taking on such a senior role have "relevant experience".

But will this experience be sufficient when it comes to handling the company's executives? That is not an easy question to answer.

Mr McGrath paid the price for the abject way the company handled its ambitious (and failed) bid to take over AIA, the Asian insurer. The writing was on the wall when a significant minority of investors voted against his re-election last year.

His friends will tell you that Mr McGrath has reinvigorated the life insurer's board with a number of high-profile hires and that he didn't really deserve the flak he took.

Well, up to a point. Because it wasn't just the bid that was the problem. It was simply the spark that lit the blue touchpaper.

Prudential treats almost everyone who comes into contact with it, be they shareholders, customers, even employees, in a manner that is so high-handed and arrogant that it is almost comical. Almost.

Mr McGrath upgraded the board. He might have done better with an attempt to upgrade Pru's culture.

That challenge is now Mr Manduca's. His job won't be helped by the fact that the company is doing quite well at the moment. This is largely down to it being in the right place (Asia) at the right time, but it hasn't stopped Pru's executives from claiming the credit.

Mr Manduca needs to be alive to their hubris if he wants to stay in his job longer than did Mr McGrath.

Peppa's stateside snorts will be sweet revenge

In the view of many parents, America is the Great Satan.

That's not down to George W Bush or even McDonald's. It is thanks to the children's TV characters they have to put up with. For those who might be missing the point here, just spend an hour or two watching Disney Junior.

Fear not. The (British) Empire is striking back. American parents are about to get swamped by one Peppa Pig, with a big marketing push planned for the autumn.

The appeal of the character is really rather difficult to comprehend if you're not under five. Peppa and chums bounce around to a plinky plonky musical score, periodically making rather unpleasant snorts. But pre-schoolers lap it up, and it's a top property here. And in Europe. And in Australia.

Now it's America's turn. US parents, prepare yourselves for porcine purgatory. The British are coming. Revenge is so sweet. Snort.