Greenbury man backs Simpson's pounds 10m pay

'Fat cats' row: Institute of Directors head says opposition to GEC chief's five-year package is totally unjustified
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The row over "fat cat" salaries escalated last night when a leading member of the Greenbury committee, set to curb excessive executive pay, defended a controversial package that could net new GEC chief executive George Simpson pounds 10m over the next five years.

Tim Melville-Ross, director-general of the Institute of Directors, described the hostile reaction of most institutional investors, shareholders' groups and opposition politicians to the deal as "totally unjustified".

"Very few people are capable of doing that kind of job," he said. "They are in much shorter supply than football stars and people don't have a problem with people who play for Manchester United so why should they have a problem paying a great deal of money to someone who is going to run a very large organisation, create thousands of jobs and boost British industry?"

His remarks are bound to cause embarrassment as the Greenbury committee he sat on specifically urged remuneration committees "to be sensitive to the wider scene, including pay and employment conditions elsewhere in the company, especially when determining annual salary increases".

Mr Melville-Ross's outburst in a BBC radio interview last night came as GEC hunkered down to see out a storm of criticism that descended on the electronics giant after it emerged that Mr Simpson is set to become one of the highest paid directors in the land when he takes over from Lord Weinstock to begin his three-year contract in a fortnight.

"You may as well simply give somebody a bag of cash," said Anne Simpson of PIRC, the pay and pensions consultancy.

Included in Mr Simpson's package are a "golden hello" of pounds 500,000 on joining to compensate for leaving the incentive scheme at his previous employer, engineering and aerospace group Lucas, and a profit-related bonus of up to 50 per cent on his basic salary of pounds 600,000, dependent on "certain reasonable performance criteria to be agreed", his service contract states.

But the strongest complaints were reserved for a complicated share options grant based on pounds 4.8m of shares - or eight times Mr Simpson's annual salary. The options can be exercised as long as GEC's share price beats the FT- SE 100 average by 10 per cent in any six months within a specified three- year period.

"There is no point in having a performance criterion which is such a low hurdle you can hop over it at almost any point in the company's programme," said Ms Simpson.

Her criticisms were echoed by Donald Butcher, chairman of the UK Shareholders Association, an independent body that lobbies for greater investor rights. "This gigantic package appears to fly in the face of the guidelines set by pay review bodies.

"From first impressions the performance requirements seem laughable," he said.

The Association of British Insurers confirmed it would examine the full details of the package to see if it breached its guidelines on share incentive schemes but said it was too early to say whether it did.

Others expressed concern about GEC's lack of consultation with shareholders about Mr Simpson's pay package. "It is very unfortunate it was not possible to disclose the package at the time of the annual report," fumed one leading fund manager.

Adding to this sense of impotent rage, investors will be unable to vote on the scheme at GEC's annual meeting on 6 September. They can only approve Mr Simpson's appointment to the board.

However, institutions accepted they had made a rod for their own backs by insisting GEC look outside for a successor to Lord Weinstock - obliging them to pay the going market rate.

"We recognise the importance of companies being flexible when it comes to rewarding new executives," a leading investor said.

The City was cautious, marking GEC's shares down 5.5p to 385.5p.