LONDON (Reuters) - Glencore (GLEN.L) Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg defended bumper executive pay on Thursday, brushing aside a "shareholder spring" that has seen widespread protests at UK-listed firms and telling investors they had to pay for entrepreneurial spirit.
Glasenberg, in a rare public address, also signaled support for the chief executive of miner Xstrata XTA.L, which commodities trader Glencore plans to take over in a $30 billion purchase, after some shareholders criticized proposed retention payments for Xstrata's top managers as "excessive", "unacceptable" and "depressing", stoking fears the backlash could threaten the all-share deal.
Glencore, the world's largest diversified commodities trader, owns almost 34 percent of Xstrata and the deal to combine the two groups into a mining and trading powerhouse is expected to be voted through next month, but the "golden handcuffs" have angered minority shareholders.
In an impassioned defense of executive compensation - a week after Xstrata announced it would pay retention deals to 73 of its key employees totaling more than 170 million pounds - Glasenberg told an industry dinner that shareholders needed to pay for managers that deliver returns, acting like shareholders rather than caretakers.
"(For a chief executive who does not own shares), to get him to have this entrepreneurial culture, to work like one of us, to chase every deal like we do, we are going to have to pay him," Glasenberg said.
"If I were the CEO and my shareholders voted down my salary, my compensation, because they did not believe I was worth it, then you have to leave... If you want good CEOs, you are going to have to pay."
Glasenberg himself earns a modest salary compared to industry peers, but he also owns almost 16 percent of Glencore and made almost $110 million from last year's final dividends alone. Xstrata's Mick Davis, meanwhile, is one of the best paid executives in the FTSE 100, taking home $5.4 million pounds last year in salary, cash bonus and benefits - excluding long-term incentives, deferred bonuses and retirement benefits.
Glasenberg said that Davis had long been one of the best-paid executives: "So be it ... We are a major shareholder in Xstrata. I am happy to pay him well, because he is giving us great returns," he said.
Asked specifically about Davis' retention payment and those for others at Xstrata, Glasenberg said the decision was taken by Xstrata's independent directors and not by Glencore, an interested party.
"Should (the packages) be performance (related)? They decided it was more important to keep these gentlemen in the job, to make sure they are there for the good integration of the companies," he said.
Reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques, editing by Bernard Orr