April 29, 2015 / 8:35 PM / 4 years ago

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

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) 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.

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

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.

Semler Brossy Managing Director Todd Sirras called the result at Coke “a solid B,” and said it was hard to say whether the figure will lead the company to make more compensation changes.

Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises pension funds, mutual funds and other money managers, had recommended investors vote against the pay of the company’s top leaders, including Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, who earned $25.2 million in 2014.

Another proxy adviser, Glass Lewis & Co, had recommended investors support the pay, but said in a report it is concerned that bonus limits at the company are too high.

Meanwhile, two large pension fund overseers, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board voted against the pay detailed in Coke’s proxy released in March, according to disclosures on their websites. , Each holds less than 1 percent of Coke shares.

Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Richard Chang and Lisa Von Ahn

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