Executive pay triggers revolt at William Hill

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The Independent Online

William Hill was yesterday forced to face down a shareholder revolt after almost a third voted against approving the chief executive's pay rise.

The FTSE 250 gambling group met with huge opposition over its proposals to lift Ralph Topping's pay for the first time since his appointment, at its annual general meeting in London.

Almost 176 million votes were cast against the resolution which related to director remuneration, one of the biggest revolts in a major UK-listed company this year.

Just over 331 million were in favour of the level of pay with 25 million withholding their vote, which was enough to push through the proposal.

Mr Topping's pay packet – including benefits and bonuses – increased by more than 50 per cent to £1.6m last year, it emerged in February's annual report. This included a salary of £491,250 with a bonus of £891,000 and £240,000 instead of a pension.

William Hill hit back at the rebel shareholders yesterday. A spokeswoman for the group said the time was right to lift Mr Topping's salary.

She said: "In light of the significant progress that the business has made under his leadership and to ensure that his remuneration is more in line with other companies of our size and complexity, the board has decided to award Ralph an increase in his salary.

"The remuneration of our executives is critical to ensuring that we attract and retain high-calibre individuals and that their interests are aligned with those of shareholders," she added.

Mr Topping started out in a Glasgow branch of William Hill as a teenager and returned to the business after university.

William Hill is not the only group facing shareholder ire. This month, Xstrata met with a hostile response over its remuneration policy, with only 68 per cent of shareholders backing the proposed payout to executives. Companies including Barclays, BP and Prudential have seen investors raise questions over management pay.

In February, easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou led a shareholder revolt to block a £1m payment to former chief executive Andy Harrison.

William Hill revealed the lift in Mr Topping's pay in its annual report, which also showed a 60 per cent boost in pre-tax profits for 2010 to £193.3m, bolstered by a solid performance from its online operation.

William Hill is expanding in the US and last week bought its third sports-betting company in the country in as many weeks. It revealed it had sealed the deal for Brandywine Bookmaking, based in Nevada.