High Street

WH Smith postpones CEO’s £25k pay rise

Despite the move to approve the Directors' Remuneration Report being passed, it ‘acknowledged’ that a ‘significant minority of shareholders’ chose not to support this resolution

WH Smith has revealed it has postponed its planned £25,000 pay rise for its CEO Carl Cowling, after 33% of its shareholders voted against the move.  

In an update posting the results of its AGM, it revealed that despite the move to approve the Directors’ Remuneration Report being passed, it “acknowledges”  that a “significant minority of shareholders” chose not to support this resolution.  

In defence, WH Smith said that its previous 2019 Remuneration Report explained that Cowling’s salary on his appointment as group CEO was set at a lower level than his predecessor. Thus, the Remuneration Committee agreed that Cowling’s salary would increase by £25,000 per annum, subject to performance, in each of the next three years following his appointment.  

However, it revealed that prior to its Annual General Meeting, it engaged with a number of shareholders within its executive remuneration arrangements and, as a result, the previously announced increase in Cowling’s salary in April 2021 will be postponed “until such time as the Remuneration Committee believes that it would be appropriate to implement”, but it is unlikely to do so in the financial year ending 31 August 2021. 

The news comes after its latest trading update for the 16 weeks to January, which revealed a “better than anticipated” sales performance.

The group said it adapted well to the “evolving trading environment” on the high street, with revenue in stores in December at 92% of 2019 levels.  

Despite this, the chain, which was classed as an ‘essential’ retailer, revealed that total group revenue was just 59% of 2019 revenue for the same period. 

The group also expects its underlying monthly cash burn for the period January to March 2021 to be around £15m-£20m per month assuming the current conditions continue.

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