The day investors bit back

Nearly 60 per cent of Aviva shareholders refuse to back boardroom pay deals. Sly Bailey ousted at Trinity Mirror. Big backers revolt at Inmarsat. Bonus row erupts at Premier Foods

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The Independent Online

An unprecedented wave of shareholder fury against boardroom largesse swept through the City yesterday, claiming the scalp of Trinity Mirror's Sly Bailey, one of Britain's best-known female chief executives.

Her departure came as angry investors voiced their disapproval of soaring boardroom pay at a time of falling dividends and share prices at annual meetings yesterday across the Square Mile.

Aviva became only the fourth FTSE 100 company to have its remuneration report thrown out by shareholders as the City's spring of discontent claimed its first blue-chip scalp.

Nearly 60 per cent of the insurance giant's shareholders refused to back the bumper pay packages it has awarded its executives, despite the fact that its shares have been falling of a cliff.

On a red letter day for shareholder activism, nearly 40 per cent of shareholders also failed to back the satellite giant Inmarsat's boardroom pay, where its chairman Andrew Sukawaty is taking home the same pay he received when he combined the roles of chief executive and chairman.

At Premier Foods, 26 per cent of investors issued a rebuke to its bosses after it welcomed its new chief executive with a £2m "golden hello" last year. Last Friday, 26.9 per cent of Barclays shareholders rejected the £17.7m pay package of chief executive Bob Diamond.

However, the Aviva vote was the most significant yesterday and came despite an attempt to buy off furious investors earlier in the week when chief executive Andrew Moss said he would forgo this year's pay rise.

It is particularly important as Aviva is itself a big institutional shareholder and the vote marks the first time that the City has taken such a pot-shot at one of its own.

During the company's annual meeting at the Barbican in the City of London, the board faced a broadside from private investors and customers furious at what some see as betrayal of their loyalty. In the last five years, since Mr Moss took charge, the shares have halved and the dividend been destroyed.

One investor, Philip Broadbent, said that during that period only two things had gone up – executive pay and non-executive pay. "The board has been rather more concerned about growing their remuneration than growing our business," he said to applause.

Much of the anger at Aviva's shareholder meeting was aimed at Mr Moss, who was paid £3m last year and has been under fire as a result of the group's stuttering performance.

But because pay votes only hold advisory status, Mr Moss and his team will all keep their deals. The Aviva boss also received 95 per cent backing for his re-election.

The chairman, Lord Sharman, leading his last AGM before stepping down, accepted that Aviva has had tough times, but argued that this was to do with the banking crisis and strife in the eurozone rather than management incompetence.

Another investor noted how many senior executives of long-standing experience had left the company. "When children start running away from home, you have to look at the parents," he said. "You and Mr Moss are bad parents," he told the chairman.

Mr Moss, who is also facing calls from some large City investors to step down, apologised for the state of the share price. "I deeply care about the Aviva share price," he said.

A spokesman for the corporate governance consultancy Pirc, which advises some of Britain's biggest pension funds, said after the AGM: "[Aviva] now needs to make good on its commitment to talk to shareholders, find out what has gone wrong and put it right.

"We have felt since the financial crisis hit that there was going to be a need for shareholders to improve their oversight. We are now finally seeing institutions standing up and taking ownership responsibilities seriously."