Leila Abboud is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering technology. She previously worked for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

It took 25 pages of its annual report for educational publisher Pearson Plc to explain the inexplicable: its decision to award CEO John Fallon a 20 percent pay increase for a year's work that led to a profit warning, dividend cut and plunge in the stock.

It's a less than auspicious start for new chairman Sidney Taurel, the former CEO of drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co.

Shareholders would be right to vent their outrage at the company's annual general meeting in May -- even if their vote will be merely symbolic.

Good Gig
Pearson CEO's pay increased in 2016, even as the shares have fallen
Source: Pearson 2016 Annual Report

Fallon’s 2016 compensation came to 1.52 million pounds ($1.9 million) in base salary and bonus, up from 1.26 million pounds in 2015, Pearson said in its annual report on Friday. The increase comes from the board's decision to award Fallon a 343,000 pound bonus for 2016 after he didn't get one the previous year.

The company's reasoning: Fallon actually met three of the four goals -- on earnings per share, operating profit, and cash flow -- on which his bonus is calculated. And in its defense, Pearson did reduce the payment by 86,000 pounds from the maximum it could have paid out. It also kept the CEO's base salary broadly flat.

Decline and Fall
Pearson shares have tumbled since early 2015
Source: Bloomberg

That will be of little comfort to shareholders who have seen the value of their holdings decline by 30 percent since Fallon took over, even after dividends are taken into account. He has now presided over five profit warnings and initiated two major restructurings.

Pearson, which makes two-thirds of operating profit from selling textbooks to schools and universities in the U.S., has repeatedly underestimated the deep changes technology is having on its business. Students are increasingly sharing or renting textbooks to save money, and Amazon has become a fierce competitor. Weakness at the U.S. higher education unit is what caused the January profit warning.

Pearson has shrunk since John Fallon took over as CEO in January 2013
Source: Bloomberg

Fallon has streamlined the company to focus on education, selling assets like the Financial Times and the Economist newspaper to raise cash. He tells what sounds like a compelling story about how Pearson should benefit from population growth and rising demand for education.

But the days of selling textbooks at steep prices are long gone, and Fallon is yet to set out clearly how he plans to retaliate against his digital rivals.

His promise to buy shares with his bonus will be of little consolation. It just puts him in the same leaky boat as his shareholders.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Leila Abboud in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at