Reckitt Benckiser gives Bart Becht £2.8m bonus to take pay to £4.2m

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The Independent Online

Bart Becht, the chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, yesterday rubbed further salt in his rival Niall FitzGerald's wounds when it emerged that his annual bonus soared 80 per cent last year to £2.8m.

This contrasted sharply with the bonus that Mr FitzGerald received during his last year at the helm of Unilever, which at just £204,000 was a quarter of the award that the outgoing co-chairman received in 2002.

Mr Becht's bumper bonus helped his total remuneration to soar by 63 per cent last year to £4.24m. This payout, which included an 18 per cent hike in his base salary to £950,000, makes Mr Becht one of Britain's best-paid manufacturers - an accolade Mr FitzGerald shared before a disastrous year for Unilever's SlimFast business trimmed his pay packet to £1.4m from £2m.

Colin Day, Reckitt Benckiser's finance director, saw his bonus almost double to £870,000, taking his total pay packet to £1.35m, up from £950,000.

A company spokesman defended the level of the payouts, which followed a 21 per cent rise in the company's profits. "The group has a US-style high-risk, high-reward policy. During the year, it increased its forecasts twice and still came in at the top end of expectations," he said. The group's shares hit a record high of 1,423p in February, a year-on-year gain of 50 per cent.

In 2002, Mr Becht was among the country's best-paid bosses after he cashed in share options granted when Reckitt & Colman merged with Benckiser in 1999. Since then he has helped to almost double the group's share price, boosting its market valuation to £9bn.

Another executive who enjoyed an increased remuneration package for 2003 was Peter Johnson, the chief executive of the car dealer Inchcape. He banked more than £3.5m from share options, pay and pension contributions, according to the company's annual report published yesterday. A £348,000 bonus lifted his pay to £896,000, but he also received a £214,400 contribution to his pension, a 47 per cent increase on 2002. On top of this, he cashed in some £2.4m from share options exercised throughout the year.

Alan Ferguson, the finance director of the company, also cashed in on a number of share options last year, bringing in an additional £1.17m to his £524,000 pay packet. He saw his pension fund swell by £548,000 to £1.8m. This gives him an annual pension of £360,000 to look forward to. Graeme Potts, the former head of the RAC group who joined Inchcape as managing director in 2002, was paid £530,900 for his first full year in office. His pension contribution now stands at £71,300.

The company, Britain's biggest quoted car dealer, posted bumper profits for 2003, which the company says justifies the pay awards. In the past four years, the share price of the company has risen from about 250p to 1464p. Pre-tax profits increased 55 per cent to £168m in 2003.