Countrywide pay chief to step down after investor revolt
The board member who drew up a controversial £20m executive pay plan at Countrywide, the troubled estate agency group, is to step down in the wake of an investor revolt.
Sky News has learnt that Countrywide has hired headhunters to identify a new non-executive director to chair the company’s remuneration committee (remco).
Sources said that Ridgeway Partners, a search firm, had been asked to find a successor to Cathy Turner, who has been on the group’s board, and chaired its remco, since 2013.
It was unclear on Wednesday whether Ms Turner would step down from the Countrywide board altogether or just relinquish her responsibility for setting boardroom pay, although one insider said the former scenario was more likely.
Ms Turner also chairs the pay committees at Aldermore and Old Mutual Wealth, according to her biography on the Countrywide website.
News of the search comes less than four months after Countrywide, which operates under brands such as Hamptons International and Bairstow Eves, was forced to scrap plans for a new incentive scheme which could have paid out huge sums to executives.
The scheme was particularly controversial because its prospective beneficiaries would have included Peter Long, whose appointment as executive chairman could have seen him receive shares worth more than £6m.
Countrywide was forced into a £140m rescue capital-raising during the summer, and is now valued by the stock market at little more than £150m after seeing its shares slump by more than 80% during the last year.
The decision to withdraw the company’s Absolute Growth Plan (AGP) averted the humiliation for Mr Long of a second massive shareholder revolt in as many months following a majority vote against Royal Mail’s pay report.
Mr Long, who has since quit the Royal Mail board, also saw roughly one-third of the postal operator’s shareholders voting against his re-election at its annual meeting.
The strength of City feeling against him was partly a reflection of concerns that he was culpable of “overboarding”, the term for a director holding too many roles to be able to perform competently in them.
Countrywide’s AGP would only have paid out above a series of specific benchmarks relating to the overall value of the company.
However, investors were infuriated by the scheme after seeing their holdings effectively wiped out by the rescue refinancing.
Countrywide declined to comment on Wednesday on the search for a new remco chair.