Who are we to judge? By HR180’s founder and MD, Claire Morley-Jones

April 28, 2016

Driving into work this morning I became slightly infuriated by the BBC Radio 4’s coverage of WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell’s pay package. The poor guy was being grilled mercilessly by Today programme’s Sarah Montague about whether he is worth the £70m proposed this year if shareholders vote in favour of the proposal at the company’s AGM this June.

Bless him, he handled it well – pointing out that he had grown the company from two people in one room in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1985 to 190,000 people in 112 countries and a leadership position in industry. That in itself is a FANTASTIC achievement and surely must be the dream of most business owners. He was careful to balance the success of the company and therefore the justification of his pay package without saying those immortal L’Oreal words, ‘because I’m worth it.’

Sir Martin has been at the sticky end of media criticism, with shareholder revolts over his pay at previous company meetings to boot, but he remains staunchly “not embarrassed” by his success at massively growing the company he founded. And why should he? Sir Martin’s pay is based on 5.1% increase in quarterly revenues to over £3bn by the world’s largest advertising group. However, the Radio 4 News a little later in the programme was making his non-embarrassment out to be a bad thing. What actually is there to be embarrassed about and who are we to judge in any case?

I believe that the only people capable of standing in judgement are shareholders and Board Members who need to agree, and to provide, tempting packages for those who do make a difference, helping stimulate ambition in our workforces, and growth in our companies.

After all, the advertising firm boss’s package would have been previously approved by investors, so what’s the problem?

Why shouldn’t we reward success, and what in fact is wrong with people getting an absolutely amazing remuneration package if they have agreed huge targets – and smashed them? You can’t change the goal posts half way through the year – it’d be an all-out riot if I told my staff they couldn’t have a bonus because I had changed their T&Cs mid-year. Good on Sir Martin!

Our media, and public opinion, seems too easily fuelled by distrust when we see someone who is successful reaping the benefits of their hard work in achieving business growth targets as agreed. If success rewarded by significant financial gain is going to be criticised, then what actually is ‘acceptable’ (and which paragon of virtue is going to decide or will it be by the ever present ‘committee’!)

And how are individuals going to be incentivised in future (not only those in these roles but also those who aspire to the reach the top of global business) if we don’t build tempting remuneration packages for those contributing at all levels of business?

Carping about remuneration takes little account of a business’s success and growth on the back of personal sacrifice on behalf of the individuals concerned – from the SME owners who take next to nothing out of a business in the initial years to CEOs who deliver business growth to phenomenal levels, and all those spending loads of time at the coal face who have little or no work life balance.

So well done Sir Martin Sorrell, and I am already looking forward to my £70m pay packet in around 2036.

Read more here. Full details will be revealed in the company’s annual report on 29 April

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