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Pay executives more, not less?

A look at a few annual reports suggests that SA’s top executives earn around R15m or $1m per annum – while the fourth-highest paid at Amazon received $55m.
Whether executive salaries and total remuneration can be justified is often questioned. Image: Shutterstock

The past few weeks have seen a resurgence in criticism of executive remuneration following disclosures made in various annual reports. In SA, the fact that Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman received total remuneration of R300 million and Capitec CEO Gerrie Fourie nearly R93 million grabbed headlines.

Froneman took flack as the revelations came at an extremely inopportune time – workers at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division had been on strike for months trying to force the company to increase wages by R1 050 per month. Needless to say, union bosses saw red.

Read:
Capitec under fire – again – for its executive pay
Executive pay: Mining bosses rake in hundreds of millions

However, a look at the remuneration report included in the gold and platinum miner’s annual report shows that the largest part of Froneman’s remuneration of R300 million came from a long-term share incentive scheme.

During the financial year to end-December 2021, his basic salary amounted to R12.4 million, the company contributed R825 000 to his pension fund, and he received a cash bonus of R7.8 million and “other” cash payments of R1 million. That adds up to R22 million.

Proceeds in terms of share incentives schemes netted Froneman some R169 million.

Sibanye-Stillwater CFO Charl Keyter earned a total of R147 million during the 2021 financial year, according to the annual report.

Following the furore about Froneman’s earnings, the company noted that workers had declined offers of a share incentive scheme twice during the last 10 years, which “would have benefitted them tremendously”.

Shareholders are apparently happy to have Froneman on board.

Only 11% of shareholders voted against Sibanye-Stillwater’s remuneration policy at the last AGM and 20% against the implementation of the policy. Only 7% of shareholders voted against fees paid to non-executive directors.

The vote indicates that shareholders believe  the management team at Sibanye-Stillwater has delivered.

Similarly, Naspers shareholders did not begrudge the then CEO Koos Bekker his earnings years ago when they also became rich. Famously, Bekker asked for an annual salary of R10, and a chunk of share options.

Today, Fortune magazine estimates Bekker’s net worth at $2.2 billion, equal to around R34 billion.

Unhappy

Capitec’s shareholders are apparently not that happy with Fourie and his colleagues’ pay cheques. Nearly 48% of shareholders voted against the implementation of the bank’s remuneration policy at the recent AGM.

A point of contention was that Capitec’s remuneration committee made certain adjustments to take into account the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other companies, such as Discovery, also made adjustments in the implementation of their pay policies.

Gains from share incentive schemes contributed the lion’s share to Fourie’s remuneration in the financial year to end-February 2022. He earned a basic salary of approximately R14.8 million. Long term and short term share incentive schemes delivered the other R78 million.

Interestingly, Fourie earned significantly more than his counterparts at the other commercial banks in SA.

  • Sim Tshabalala, CEO of Standard Bank, received total remuneration of R48.6 million in the year to December 2021. The bank noted in its remuneration report that fixed salaries were unchanged from the prior year.
  • Mike Brown, CEO of Nedbank, earned R39.3 million, of which R9.3 million represented fixed remuneration.
  • Jason Quinn, Absa’s new CEO, earned R35.5 million in the year to December 2021. He was CFO for the first four months of the year and then interim CEO after the departure of Daniel Mminele. Absa says in its report on remuneration that Quinn received his CFO salary while interim CEO.
  • Allan Pullinger, CEO of FirstRand, received a fixed salary of R9.45 million in the last financial year and share incentive schemes contributed another R36 million for a total of R45.5 million.

All of the banking groups wrote in their remuneration reports that executive salaries are benchmarked against those of their peers at other local banks. The (very long and detailed) remuneration reports also contain full performance appraisals of each of the banks’ directors and top managers.

How much is too much?

Earning several million per month is controversial in SA, considering our total unemployment rate of nearly 46%. Even in the ranks of the employed, the majority will not earn R1 million during their entire working lives.

Read:

Whether executive salaries and total remuneration can be justified is questioned often. But nobody ever asks if we pay SA executives enough.

Froneman and his team at Sibanye-Stillwater should be praised for what they have done with mining assets that nobody cared for. Before the acquisition of Stillwater, Sibanye acquired the gold mines that Gold Fields, Gencor and other mining groups did not want anymore. It also expanded into platinum mining by acquiring some platinum mines – those that Anglo American didn’t want.

Sibanye is one of only a few mining groups still willing to navigate SA’s troubling mining sector with its militant unions, high and increasing operating costs, failure of public infrastructure, high-risk mining policies, uncertain economic empowerment status and ever-increasing demands from local communities.

Maybe management should be praised for their contribution to SA’s economy, the nearly 85 000 direct job opportunities, keeping suppliers going, and all the tax Sibanye-Stillwater and its employees contribute to the fiscus.

Contributions

Capitec has responded to criticism of its executive remuneration by saying the relevant committee took into account the “excellent performance of the strong leadership” during the difficult past few years.

“Despite the Covid-19 year, the Bank’s headline earnings recovered; it had the ability to pay dividends; it continued to protect the livelihoods during the pandemic and the share price recovered. The new calculation methodology also prevents executives from receiving future windfall gains. It is important to note that, even if the Covid year was included in the calculations, Capitec would have still hit the target for both HEPS [headline earnings per share] and ROE [return on equity],” it said following reports that the bank “simply ignored” the effect of Covid-19 in calculating executive pay.

It could have added that the team built a new bank within a few decades, one that disrupted the banking sector with new solutions. Capitec serves 16.7 million customers and employs 13 500 people. Management promised further growth as Capitec is expanding into other banking services not offered to date.

Average

Paging through a few annual reports shows that executive salaries in SA are clustered around R15 million per annum.

The MTN Group, providing services to 272 million customers, paid its president and CEO Ralph Mupita a fixed salary of R15.4 million. He received other cash benefits of R1.7 million, while share incentive schemes upped his total remuneration to R84.2 million, according to the latest annual report.

Last year, Discovery founder and CEO Adrian Gore received a base salary of R7 million, a performance bonus of R9.6 million and other benefits of R1.4 million for a total of R18 million. Usually, he would receive dividends to the tune of R100 million per year on his nearly 50 million Discovery shares, but the group has not declared a dividend since the February 2020 interim.

Discovery says its operates in 28 countries, employs 12 650 people and impacts the lives of 41.3 million people.

Shoprite, noting that it is the largest retailer on the African continent, paid its CEO Pieter Engelbrecht a guaranteed salary of R16.8 million last year, and a short term share incentive scheme and dividends added another R13 million to this. Jannie Durand, CEO of Remgro, earned a total of R14.8 million.

Global

Displeasure with executive remuneration is a global phenomenon. News service Africa Inc reported that shareholders came within six percentage points of voting down Amazon’s proposed executive compensation a two weeks ago, but noted: “Even if shareholders had voted down executive compensation, it would have been advisory only – Amazon could still pay its leaders whatever it wanted.”

“Nine days later, Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer division and a 23-year Amazon veteran, announced his resignation. With compensation of more than $55 million, Clark was Amazon’s fourth highest-paid executive, after CEO Andy Jassy, executive chair Jeff Bezos, and CFO Brian Olsavsky,” says Africa Inc, alluding to the pressure on executives to perform and essentially earn their fortunes as the division that Clark had been heading performed poorly.

Fortune magazine asked in a headline: “Should there be a ‘maximum wage?’

The article stated that the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies earned 205 times the amount their typical employees did in 2021.

In dollar terms, SA executives earn little. The ‘average’ of R15 million comes to a paltry $1 million.

Against the backdrop of the more than $55 million paid to Amazon’s Dave Clark, Froneman’s R300 million package comes to less than $20 million and Fourie’s R92 million windfall equals less than $6 million.

South Africa needs more big, successful companies that can employ people and grow the economy. To that end, perhaps we need to offer bigger packages to more executives.

AUTHOR PROFILE

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It’s catch 22. If South Africa doesn’t pay CEO’s market related salaries, they leave South Africa for other countries…then we struggle with the skills needed to run and sustain organisations in our country. If paying bigger salaries is the only option to retain CEO’s, so let it be…if it’s justifiable.

End of comments.

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