Coke executive pay approved, but by lower-than-average margin

Wed Apr 29, 2015 4:32pm EDT
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By Anjali Athavaley and Ross Kerber

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co (KO.N: Quote) shareholders on Wednesday approved the beverage maker's pay for top executives by a lower-than-average margin in the face of concerns by large proxy advisers.

Coke said preliminary results from its annual shareholders meeting in Atlanta showed 80.4 percent of votes cast were in favor of its executive compensation, about 10 percentage points below the average for a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 index .SPX.

While the vote is only advisory, it indicates shareholder sentiment, and the company faced an investor revolt over its executive pay last year.

“The vote should pressure the Coca-Cola board to not only reform pay practices further but to move faster on fixing Coca-Cola’s business," said a statement from David Winters, chief executive officer of Wintergreen Advisers, Coke's most vocal critic on executive pay.

Coke, which is struggling to grow amid weak demand for carbonated soft drinks, said some of its largest shareholders supported its executive compensation.

"This outcome reflects support for the enhancements made in the past year to strengthen executive compensation as well as the direct engagement with shareowners," the Atlanta company said in a statement.

Last fall, Coke revised its equity plan to make it less heavily weighted toward stock options.

Pay consulting firm Semler Brossy said shareholder support for executive pay among S&P 500 companies averaged 92 percent in 2014. It was running at a similar level so far this year among 65 companies that have held their advisory votes.   Continued...

Workers stand near bottles of Coca-Cola on a newly inaugurated production line at the Cikedokan Plant in Bekasi, West Java near Jakarta March 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Darren Whiteside