Publisher Pearson has become the latest company to become the focus of shareholder protests over boardroom bonuses after one in three of its investors failed to support its pay plans.
It is the latest sign that shareholders are keeping up the pressure on executive pay after protests at the pay policies of companies such as BP, Barclays and Astra Zeneca.
The protest at Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, is thought to have focused on a payment to former director Rona Fairhead.
The company agreed to hand her just over £1.1m when she resigned in November 2012. A contender for the chief executive role when Dame Marjorie Scardino retired, Fairhead left the following April.
At the time of her resignation the company said that it had decided she was leaving as "a consequence of the planned incorporation of the professional education division overseen by Rona into other parts of Pearson's education business, coupled with the smaller size of the Financial Times Group owing to recent major divestments".
The annual report for 2013 shows she received £347,000 before she left.
At Friday's annual meeting, Pearson's chairman Glen Moreno acknowledged the scale of the votes against the remuneration report. Some 34% of investors voted against the report, a level of dissent which rises to 36% if deliberate abstentions are included.
"The vote on our remuneration report for last year was heavily influenced by objections – primarily from a proxy agency – to a specific share award, which was part of a negotiated settlement with a departing director more than a year ago," Moreno said.
He said that remuneration policy, which all companies are putting to a vote for the first time this year, had been more enthusiastically endorsed. The policy vote was introduced by business secretary Vince Cable – who this week called on companies to show pay restraint – and is to ratify pay deals for the coming three years.
"We acknowledge the basis of this objection. We have already addressed this issue in our new remuneration policy, which has received the support of 96% of our shareholders," Moreno said.
Earlier last month, David Arculus, the non-executive director who chairs the remuneration committee, had issued a clarification to the remuneration policy after consultations with major shareholders.
The clarification related to discretion used by the remuneration committee to pay its directors.
Pearson issued a trading update alongside its AGM which showed a 6% fall in sales in the first quarter of 2014, which is blamed on the strength of sterling on the foreign exchange markets. If those currency movements are stripped out – Pearson generates 60% of its sales in the US – sales were up 2%.
John Fallon, who succeeded Scardino, said: "Pearson has had a solid start to the year, in line with our expectations. Our major programme of restructuring and investment is on track and will drive a leaner, more cash generative, faster growing business from 2015."
Pearson is focusing on education publishing after selling 53% of its stake in publisher Penguin.
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