WPP Shareholders OK $100 Million in Potential Bonuses for Sorrell

Compensation Package Approved Despite Plea From Leading Corporate-Governance Body

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell could take home $100 million in bonuses over the next five years after WPP shareholders voted in a controversial new compensation package today at the company's annual meeting in Dublin.

Martin Sorrell
Martin Sorrell Credit: Tom Stockill
Just under a quarter of shareholders voted against the scheme despite a plea last week from Britain's leading corporate-governance body, Pensions and Investments Research Consultants, to reject the proposal.

A WPP spokesman said the new bonus scheme has very heavy performance targets and is even more aligned to shareholders' interest than its predecessor, particularly as WPP executives have to take financial risk to gain the maximum rewards.

In order for Mr. Sorrell to receive a full payout, he must invest $19 million of his own cash and the company must outperform 90% of its competitors.

The annual meeting, WPP's first since moving its headquarters to Ireland for tax purposes, was a quiet affair, with 15 people at the podium and fewer than 50 in the audience. There was a video link back to London, but no questions were asked of the board.

WPP's financial performance
Chairman Philip Lader gave a briefing on the company's financial performance. Like-for-like revenue fell 6.7% in the first four months of the year, he said. That's compared with 5.8% in the first quarter. WPP's head count has been reduced by 4,300 people (3.7%) already this year, with a target of 7,000 by the end of the year.

"As in the first quarter, the economic pressure was most keenly felt in the U.S., and this has spread to the U.K. and continental Europe, although Eastern Europe still shows revenue growth for the first four months of 2009," Mr. Lader said.

China, Latin America and Africa are still showing like-for-like growth, and although revenue was below budget for the first four months of 2009, headline operating profits and headline operating margin were both above budget, the company said.