Annual Meeting: April 27, 2016 Last year’s proxy disclosed total pay for Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent was over $25 million, and in 2015 that same figure was $14.6 million. So perhaps it is not surprising to see headlines that read: “Coca-Cola Slashes CEO Kent's Pay for 2015.” But slash might be the wrong word.
Total disclosed pay was indeed down, but not really by the amounts highlighted in the article. A closer look show that cash compensation for Kent actually increased in 2015. In fact, Kent’s non-equity incentive compensation of $4.6 million is the highest it had been in several years. When I first saw the number, I imagined Kent saying to the comp committee, “You know I already have enough Coca-Cola stock: give me something I can use. Like cold hard cash.”
Kent currently owns over 13 million shares of Coca-Cola stock. The company has been criticized recently for its extensive use of equity and the resulting dilution. In October 2014, Coca-Cola said it would grant fewer stock options and reduced the number of eligible employees. For 2015, the grant date value of Kent’s stock and option awards declined from $15.8 million to $7.7 million.
Another major component of the reduction was a decline in the category of change in pension value: last year the figure reported there was over $7 million, this year it was 0.
Why did the cash bonus go up? Two features driving this bonus were added in 2015, profit before tax growth was weighted at 50% Net operating revenue was weighted at 25% and unit case volume at 25%. In the prior year this final category, essentially sales volume, had underperformed, as had EPS growth.
One more point about Coca-Cola, Kent holds the position of both Chair and CEO, despite shareholder pressure to split the positions. A recent study from Institutional Investor Services found that at companies where the positions of Chair and CEO were combined positions pay was approximately $2.9 million higher than companies that had an independent board chair.