Swiss Pay Doesn’t Always Match Company Success, Ethos Says

  • Ethos presents annual report on remuneration in Switzerland
  • Investor pressure on companies has been increasing: Ethos

Switzerland continues to see a disconnect between executive pay and company performance three years after voters passed some of the world’s strictest limits on compensation, according to a study by corporate governance group Ethos.

While the so-called fat-cat initiative has helped to improve transparency, absolute amounts paid to top managers and the boards of companies in the Swiss Performance Index in 2015 were up 2 percent, according to Ethos’s annual study of Swiss firms.

“Since last year, we can see a divergence between company performance and compensation,” Vincent Kaufmann, who heads Ethos, told reporters in Zurich. “More than 50 percent of SPI companies had declining operating margins yet paid more to their executives.”

Shareholder advisers are increasingly urging investors to question the large sums paid to top executives. In May, Ethos recommended shareholders reject LafargeHolcim Ltd.’s remuneration report. A month earlier, a consortium of advisers including zRating and Glass Lewis joined Ethos in opposing the $36 million in bonuses paid to Credit Suisse Group AG’s top managers.

While their protest yielded no direct success, Ethos says pressure is mounting and rejection rates of around 40 percent at some annual general meetings are an “important signal.”

Still, Swatch Group AG, Cie. Financiere Richemont SA and LafargeHolcim are among companies in the country’s benchmark SMI where the board is not independent enough, Kaufmann said.

The total board and top management pay at the 204 companies that make up the SPI swelled to more than 2 billion francs ($2.1 billion) last year, according to the study. Still, CEO compensation at SMI companies fell by 12 percent to an average 7.2 million francs, while the average compensation for an SMI chairman was 2.4 million francs, roughly the same as last year, Ethos said.

Top pay for executives at Swiss SPI companies in 2015 in millions of francs. Source: Ethos

In 2015, Roche Holding AG’s Severin Schwan was the best-paid chief executive at a Switzerland-listed company, earning more than 15.6 million francs, Ethos said. He’s followed by UBS AG’s Sergio Ermotti and Nestle SA’s Paul Bulcke, who is set to become the company’s chairman next year. He’ll succeed Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who was the top earner in that category for 2015, making more than 6.5 million francs.

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