William Hill chief joins the bloodied executives

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The Independent Online

The spring of dissent among shareholders gathered considerable momentum yesterday as the majority of investors in William Hill failed to back the pay arrangements of its chief executive at its annual meeting.

Demonstrating their concerns about a £1.2m "retention" package awarded to chief executive Ralph Topping, 49.9 per cent of Hill's shareholders voted against the bookmaker's remuneration report. Including abstentions, about 52 per cent of investors failed to support the document. Mr Topping's retention bonus was made to ensure he stays with the company until at least the end of next year. The share award is equivalent to twice his annul salary and is not linked to performance criteria. Speaking on his way into the meeting, one investor, Bernard Hyde said of Mr Topping's bonus: "No, I'm not OK with it. It's a cosy arrangement really between the remuneration committee and the board."

During the meeting, another shareholder asked why, just a few weeks after Mr Topping had said at last year's AGM how much he loved the business, and had never been more enthusiastic about running it, "they offered him a whacking great incentive to stay?".

The chairman, Gareth Davis, leapt to Mr Topping's defence after announcing the extent of opposition to his bonus, saying: "We have no intention of backing off or changing the arrangement in place." He added that, after 41 years at the company, Mr Topping "was pensionable at any time" and was "the best chief executive in the business".

Tom Powdrill, of shareholder advisory group PIRC, said: "Hill has said it will not be swayed by the vote but it can't really ignore this. This is a serious level of dissatisfaction and the company should seek to address it."

Mr Powdrill also predicted that the wave of recent protest votes would continue in the coming weeks. PIRC is calling on investors to oppose Unilever's executive pay report at its AGM today. It argues that, among other things, some incentives of Paul Polman, the chief executive, and the finance director, John-Marc Huet are "not in the long-term interest of shareholders". The group has also urged investors to oppose the remuneration report of the commodities giant Glencore today, and it has asked investors to abstain from approving Centrica's remuneration report on Friday because "potentially excessive amounts could be awarded".

Tomorrow, Trinity Mirror newspapers is likely to get a bloody nose from investors over pay, despite its chief executive Sly Bailey, quitting last week.