Liberty Global's CEO Did Better Than His Investors in 2016

  • Front-loaded stock awards lifted his pay 45% to $40.1 million
  • Shares slumped 17%, second annual decline after years of gains

Michael Fries. Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

Liberty Global Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Fries saw his compensation jump to $40.1 million in 2016 after the company loaded two years of stock awards into a single payday.

Fries, 54, received $24 million in stock tied to growth in adjusted operating cash flow, up from a $10 million award the prior year, according to a proxy statement Monday. The increase was a result of the board’s decision to front-load his awards for 2016 and 2017. The CEO also got a $5.55 million bonus and stock options worth $7.38 million.

The cable and broadband provider, controlled by billionaire Chairman John Malone, rejiggered stock awards for Fries and about 385 other employees to “better align these incentives over a longer term,” promote achievement of goals and keep people on their jobs, the filing said.

Liberty Global shares declined 17 percent in 2016, the second-straight annual decline after six years of advances.

Liberty Global, which owns cable companies from Hungary to the U.K. to the Caribbean, has been focusing on broadband and mobile-phone services for growth after acquiring pay-TV companies over the past decade. In a challenge to Royal KPN NV and Deutsche Telekom AG, Liberty Global last year combined its operations in the Netherlands with those of Vodafone Group Plc in a joint venture bundling broadband and mobile services.

Malone’s companies are known to pay executives handsomely. Fries was the second-highest paid executive in 2014, with awarded compensation worth $139.4 million at the year-end, the Bloomberg Pay Index showed at the time. The pay package came as he signed an employment agreement that expires in 2019 and comes with automatic one-year extensions.

Discovery Communications Inc., another media company in which Malone holds a substantial interest, paid CEO David Zaslav $94.9 million in 2014, fueled by a similar multiyear award, the index shows. His 2016 pay was worth $44.7 million at year end.

While Liberty Global is based in London, Fries resides in Denver and the terms of his employment, including compensation, are “based on U.S. customs and standards,” the board said in the filing. His 2016 compensation also included $2.05 million in salary and about 1.08 million in benefits and perks.

Fries’s total pay in 2015 amounted to $27.7 million, according to the filing.

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