WHS 'arm-twisting' claim

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of the W H Smith remuneration committee yesterday denied a shareholder's allegation that his arm was twisted to award 'outrageous' salary increases last year to the chairman and managing director.

Peter Wilmot-Sitwell, a non-executive director of Smith, defended the rises, which included bonuses calculated, he said, according to a very strict formula based on earnings per share growth.

Sir Simon Hornby, chairman, was awarded a 44 per cent hike to pounds 261,000. Sir Malcolm Field, managing director, got 57 per cent more to pounds 323,000.

One shareholder, Roger Gauntlett, protested at the annual shareholders' meeting that the pay increases were 'outrageous' and a bad example to less senior staff, who were not getting rises of this sort.

He contrasted the large increases to the more modest 12 per cent increase in earnings: 'What's the relationship? It's not linear is it? It's not square law. It's not even cubic law.' However, other shareholders supported the pay rises.

Mr Wilmot-Sitwell, who is also vice-chairman of the merchant bank S G Warburg, said: 'I can assure you we do not have our arms twisted.'

He added that it was 'extremely unlikely' that the bonuses would be triggered in the current year, implying that the group does not expect to achieve any real growth in earnings per share this year.

At the meeting Sir Simon said current sales remained flat and was cautious about future trading: 'It would be foolish to expect any increases in retail sales over the next few months.'

He also said the group was interested in investing in Germany: 'Our analysis shows there may be an opportunity (on the Continent), particularly in Germany, and we're looking at that now. We won't go in on our own: it will be some form of joint venture.'