View from City Road: Where will the gravy train stop?

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Compared to the pounds 2m - plus pension - Burton paid to Sir Ralph Halpern on his departure from the helm, or even the pounds 773,000 his successor, Lawrence Cooklin, took with him when he was dismissed, the pounds 310,000 bonus and consultancy package it is giving Richard North, its finance director, is small beer. That hardly makes it any more defensible, however, especially since the days of unbridled excess at Burton were meant to be a thing of the past.

Sir John Hoskyns explains that the payment reflects Mr North's 'very considerable achievements' in the job. Mr North is a likeable and no doubt talented chap, but most people would think 'his very considerable achievements' had already been adequately reflected in his annual salary and performance bonus, not to mention the 2.5 million share options he is taking with him. Not in the increasingly weird and wonderful world of executive pay, however.

In this world success and failure are rewarded in equal measure, and when you decide on pastures new you are given a gilt-edged bung dressed up as a consultancy package to help you on your way. You have to wonder where the executive gravy train is ever going to stop if leaving the company for another job is now deemed worthy of attracting an additional performance bonus.

Nor is the payment any more defensible if, as the City suspects, Mr North's departure is because of a personality clash with his boss, John Hoerner, the chief executive. Mr North has not been sacked, not unless the company is keeping something from us, anyway; he is leaving of his own volition for an attractive new job, with, doubtless, a handsome salary. The good wishes of his former employer ought to be enough to sustain him.

The consultancy agreement is equally unacceptable. If Andrew Higginson really needs the advice of his predecessor, he is surely not the right man for the job. If he does not, why on earth is Burton agreeing to keep Mr North on as a consultant?

As for Laura Ashley, it should perhaps have considered bribing Mr Higginson with a pounds 310,000 payment to stay. His departure leaves it with a caretaker chief executive and a caretaker finance director, and a dangerously inexperienced executive board.

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