You can bet your bottom dollar that Paul Zahra and Alan Joyce are sending each other bitchy emails about Marius Kloppers this week. The BHP Billiton chief surrendered his bonuses this year after the company wrote down the value of its US shale and gas interests by $2.7 billion.
It’s an annoyingly good natured precedent for a big business executive. Although the fact that Kloppers’ bonus last year was around $4.7 million kind of takes the shine off it.
Even still, Zahra and Joyce are probably cursing him for putting them under the spotlight and it’s a decision they’ll be under some pressure to emulate this year with both companies also reporting significant profit slides.
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A couple of years ago I received a furious telephone call from the chief executive officer of one of our biggest companies complaining about what he regarded as the ungrateful and insulting tone of The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of executive salaries.
The bloke had a bit of a point because, as he pointed out, his salary was extravagant on paper but had coincided with an unprecedented period of increased returns to shareholders. He’d also resisted the slash-and-burn approach to running his business, shielding workers from dismissal when it would have been the easiest way to achieve short-term savings in what was then a looming economic downturn.
The point I tried to make in the media’s defence was that rather than accusing us of being cheap populists, he should really convene a telephone hook-up with his fellow CEOs and ask them if their remuneration fell into the same category as his.
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