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Op-Ed | Burberry's New Fashion Directive: Get On Trend With Pay

The company may face a backlash from shareholders at its annual general meeting on Thursday over awards to chief creative director Christopher Bailey, and new finance director Julie Brown.
Burberry's London flagship store at 121 Regent Street | Source: Burberry
By
  • Bloomberg

LONDON, United KingdomBurberry Group Plc needs to get back into fashion on two fronts.

Although the British luxury company reported better-than-expected first quarter sales on the back of a rebound in China, new Chief Executive Marco Gobbetti still has the task of reigniting interest in the tired brand.

And there's another area where Burberry needs to be more on trend: executive pay.

The company may face a backlash from shareholders at its annual general meeting on Thursday over awards to chief creative director and former CEO Christopher Bailey, and new finance director Julie Brown.

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The expected clash will be in contrast to much of the British shareholder meeting season.

This year has seen some UK companies show more restraint when it comes to pay. The abstemious stance demonstrates that boards are listening to investors' reservations over remuneration.

Burberry has made some progress.

Brown handed back up to £2.4 million ($3.1 million) worth of share awards that were to compensate her for the loss of the equivalent at her former employer, Smith & Nephew Plc. The move came after it emerged that her award on joining Burberry was worth more than she could have received at Smith & Nephew.

Bailey, meanwhile, waived his bonus for the last two years. He also deferred some of the 1 million shares he was awarded in 2013, prior to his appointment as chief executive. However, he's still eligible to receive stock worth about £11 million at the current share price from that award, and another share grant in 2014. The 2013 tranche had no performance criteria attached.

Bailey's awards have already proved controversial, with Burberry suffering an investor revolt over pay in 2014.

Long-serving Chairman John Peace is preparing to stand down and a successor is expected to be appointed by the end of next year.

Whoever fills his shoes should follow some of Burberry's peers and listen at an earlier stage to shareholder concerns over remuneration in order to avoid more bruising battles in future.

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The incoming chairman must strike a delicate balance. The design heads of many luxury groups aren't on the company's board, and so their pay isn't public. Retaining the right creative talent, and keeping shareholders happy will be key.

It would be a shame if executive pay tensions were to overshadow Gobbetti's considerable task of making Burberry's fashions fresh again. Still, a hair shirt on remuneration may help produce a more stylish one on the catwalk.

By Andrea Felsted; editor: Katrina Nicholas.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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