Oleg Deripaska, the chief executive of the Russian aluminium giant Rusal, is to pocket an eye-watering $70.3m (£45.5m) bonus for the flotation of the company, despite the worldwide backlash against exorbitant executive pay and the fact that the group's share price is still under water.
As a reward for Rusal's flotation in Hong Kong in January, Mr Deripaska will receive 50.6 million bonus shares at the initial public offering price of HK$10.80 each. The shares are still under water – trading at less than the opening price – despite a 10 per cent increase in the Hang Seng index.
Other Rusal executives are to be given another $14m bonus between them – 60 per cent of which will be in the form of shares.
The oligarch's bonus comes in addition to his $10m basic salary, which dwarfs that of many of his rivals. BHP Billiton, the world's biggest miner, paid its chief executive, Marius Kloppers, $10.4m last year, including his $2m basic salary. Tom Albanese at Rio Tinto took home £3.8m on a basic of £900,000.
Mr Deripaska's gargantuan bonus comes amid increasing criticism of the excessive pay enjoyed by executives. In Britain, the most obvious target has been the banks. The furore over state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland's £1.3bn bonus payouts was hardly ameliorated by its chief executive, Stephen Hester, waiving his £1.6m pot. The Lloyds chief executive, Eric Daniels, also passed up the £2.3m bonus he was due. Across the sector, the Treasury's one-off 50 per cent tax on bonuses raked in £2bn, far higher than the £550m expected.
Bankers are not the only "fat cats" to come in for a public drubbing. Last month, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, Richard Lambert, warned that all business leaders risked being regarded as "aliens... in a different galaxy from the rest of the community".
Britain's FTSE 100 chief executives earned 81 times the average wage in 2009, up from 47 times in 2000. Mr Lambert said this risked damaging public support for business, adding: "It is difficult to persuade the public that profits are no more than the necessary lifeblood of a successful business if they see a small cohort at the top reaping such large rewards."
Despite his remarks, this month has seen a stream of big bonuses for bosses, including $7.7m for Mick Davis, the chief executive of Xstrata, £28m for BG Group's Frank Chapman, and a record-breaking £90m for Bart Becht at Reckitt Benckiser.
Even the public sector is not safe. A report from Income Data Services last month confirmed that senior managers at English NHS trusts saw pay rises pushing 7 per cent, while nurses were making do on less than 3 per cent.
The commonest riposte is that corporations – be they banks or hospital trusts – must pay the market rate. Earlier this month, Morrisons hiked its pay deals for executives after the supermarket group's chief executive, Marc Bolland, was poached by Marks & Spencer with a £15m package. Paul Manduca, the chairman of the renumeration committee, said that recruiting a new chief executive had shown how important competitive pay deals were.
Nor is Britain the only country where recession has turned a spotlight on remuneration. In the US, a pay tsar, Kenneth Feinberg, was appointed last June specifically to oversee the compensation of executives at companies bailed out by the government. Last month, he ruled that the top 25 earners at five companies still receiving a large amount of federal aid would be paid an average of 15 per cent less this year than last. Cash salaries will be capped at $500,000. The rest of their compensation must come in stock, in an effort to link pay with performance. AIG, in particular, has clashed several times with Mr Feinberg, most recently in November when he ruled that the salaries of two of the group's leading executives must be reduced.
Unlike in Britain, US corporations are not required to put remuneration policies to a shareholder vote. But the Securities and Exchange Commission is increasingly encouraging full disclosure, and there is growing ad hoc pressure for shareholder sign-off, boosted by a campaign called Executive PayWatch by the American Federation of Labor union to encourage investors to have their "say on pay".
In Asia, however, executive pay is far less of an issue, partly because Asian bosses are paid less than their Western colleagues. Japanese chief executives take home an average of $1.5m a year, compared with $13.3m in the US and $6.6m in Europe. But some critics say Japanese bosses would perform better with stock options that left them with more to lose.
Multiple of FTSE 100 chief executives' pay over UK average, up from 47 in 2000.Reuse content