Foxtons to Cineworld: four firms getting a bloody nose over executive pay

Investors hit back at size of packets during pandemic – but awards go ahead anyway

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Last modified on Thu 1 Jul 2021 14.30 EDT

Investors have been giving companies a bloody nose in recent weeks by staging rebellions over what they consider excessive executive pay packets during the pandemic.

Several firms have also faced a backlash over the decision to pay executives large bonuses while receiving government support funded by the taxpayer. Here are some of the businesses that have been in the spotlight.


More than four in 10 of the London estate agent’s shareholders failed to back its plans to award a near-£1m bonus to its chief executive at the same time as the firm was refusing to pay back millions of pounds of government support.

Foxtons had received almost £7m in government furlough money for staff and business rates relief at the time of the vote.

Almost 40% of its investors voted against the company’s remuneration report in April, and a further 5% abstained, which is often considered a protest vote. The vote was not binding, however, and Foxtons said Nic Budden would still receive the payout.

The influential investor advisory service Glass Lewis had recommended shareholders vote against Foxtons’ remuneration report because of “excessive granting practices in light of Covid-19”. There was “no reason as to why the company could not reduce the bonus to nil”, it said


The supermarket faced one of the biggest shareholder revolts in recent years last month, when 70% of investors voted against its executive pay awards.

Morrisons decided to award £9m in pay and bonuses to its chief executive, David Potts, and his two most senior managers in a year when the retailer’s profits halved because of extra costs incurred during the pandemic. Despite the size of the protest vote, it is not binding, and the supermarket said the executives intended to collect their awards.

Morrisons, like other food retailers, benefited from the government’s business rates holiday during the pandemic at a time when their sales were boosted by the closure of cafes and restaurants.

XPO Logistics

The US-owned delivery and warehousing firm, which handles parcels for retailers including Asos and Marks & Spencer, came in for criticism after it handed multimillion-pound bonuses to its executives while receiving UK government support.

Shareholders rejected the Connecticut-based company’s pay plan at the annual meeting in May, on the advice of unions and the shareholder advisory organisation Pirc. The vote was non-binding, but investor rebellions are often viewed as embarrassing for the company at the receiving end of a protest vote.

XPO Logistics paid $6.4m (£4.6m) in cash bonuses for 2020, just over half of which ($3.3m) was paid to Brad Jacobs, the company’s chief executive and chair. Other top bosses also received more than $27m in share options.

XPO, which employs more than 25,000 people in the UK, also claimed between £12m and £25m in furlough support through six of its UK subsidiaries between December 2020 and February, according to HMRC data. XPO did not own two of the businesses until January 2021 but the claims continued after that point.


Shareholders in the UK’s largest cinema chain expressed their displeasure at the large reward packages handed to executives during the pandemic. Twenty-eight percent of investors failed to support a controversial reward scheme that could lead to top bosses being awarded more than £200m in share awards if the company’s shares returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Thousands of Cineworld staff were furloughed while its 127 UK cinemas were closed.

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