Telco Fat Cats: Still Worth It?

Sometimes it's hard to be Gavin, Tammy Wynette might have sung if only it had scanned. He may have the chiseled, Hollywood looks of a young Michael Landon (see below), but BT boss Gavin Patterson saw his annual compensation plummet by three quarters in the last fiscal year, after a dodgy Italian job left a chunk of the operator's business teetering like Michael Caine's bus on the edge of a cliff. (See Dodgy Italian Job Savages BT Earnings, Share Price Tanks and BT's Patterson Feels Italian Heat.)

Money Isn't Everything; Looks Count, Too
On the left, struggling BT CEO Gavin Patterson; on the right, Michael Landon, star of 1970s TV show Little House on the Prairie. Oh, wait...
On the left, struggling BT CEO Gavin Patterson; on the right, Michael Landon, star of 1970s TV show Little House on the Prairie. Oh, wait...

Patterson still managed to bag nearly $1.9 million in total, and so his own experience of austerity probably doesn't come with the usual worry about the rising price of groceries and other sundry items. Still, for any executive used to pocketing several million dollars in annual compensation, it's a big enough fall to prompt head-scratching about the affordability of debentures for tennis at Wimbledon, the luxury yacht that caught your eye in St. Tropez last year or even boarding school fees for young Wigbert.

We jest, of course. Light Reading has no idea whether Patterson has a son called Wigbert. Or if he even likes sailing and tennis. He garners attention as one of only a couple of executives running a telco in the Western world whose pay packet has taken a serious beating in recent years. It's not as though telcos are suddenly much perkier, either. Since our last survey of executive pay in July 2015, the industry's existential angst has grown. Moreover, the world's biggest operators have slashed tens of thousands of jobs in a bid to fatten profits while sales refuse to rise. (See Because They're Worth It? and Efficiency Drive by Major Telcos Has Claimed 74K Jobs Since 2015.)

The other standout sufferer is Sprint's Marcelo Claure. Brought in as the man who would make Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) live up to its dynamic name, Claure was awarded about $21.8 million in the company's 2014/15 fiscal year, earning more than any of his US peers in a similar timeframe. Two years later, Claure's annual compensation had sunk to just $7.5 million. It is perhaps no wonder. While BT has had its Italian job, Sprint has been trying and failing to merge with T-Mobile US Inc. for so long the companies have even switched places in the market share tables. Despite the latest speculation about a possible merger, Sprint's share price is little higher than when Claure took charge in August 2014. (See Sprint & T-Mobile Talk M&A Again – Report.)

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated Mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

But a crappy share price has not stopped other executives from basking in the sun of higher pay. Check out AT&T's Randall Stephenson, the most overpaid (sorry, well compensated) executive in our hit list (ahem, ranking table). In 2014, Stephenson was probably happy enough to get $20.8 million in total compensation. He must have felt bulletproof when he collected $24.2 million after his company's share price lost 8.3% of its value last year. Just as dubious M&A prospects have clouded Sprint's fortunes, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) appears to have recently suffered because of doubts it will ever complete its genius move to buy content giant Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) -- a stratagem that any MBA student who'd read up on the content and telecom sectors might have suggested were it not so preposterous. (See AT&T Exec Dishes That He's Not So Hot on Rival-Partner Comcast.)

Before anyone leaps in and points out that Stephenson did not actually get $24.2 million to spend on sports events, boats and school fees, well, yes, most of that money was in the form of stock options and other such niceties. His actual salary was $1.8 million. In fact, no executive on the list had a base salary of more than $2.4 million in the most recent fiscal year for which data is available. In the US, "other" forms of compensation are enough to buy castles in Scotland with central heating and gold-plated bath taps. Europe's bosses, by contrast, have had to make do with much smaller amounts but include the executive with the highest base salary in the entire survey: Telefónica CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete, whose kingly wage of more than $2.3 million in 2017 matched the glorious pomp of his name.

Total Compensation in Most Recent Fiscal Year ($)
Sources: Bloomberg, companies, SEC.
Sources: Bloomberg, companies, SEC.

And despite the cuts to other forms of compensation, base salaries have held up pretty nicely. Patterson had to forego his usual bonus, but his basic wages rose by £24,000 ($27,411) -- a figure that is comparable to the average UK salary -- to a tasty £993,000 ($1.13 million). If you think that was unwarranted, the boss limping along at Sprint enjoyed a 62.5% pay rise in the 2015/16 fiscal year, when he collected a handy $1.5 million in basic wages. Percentage increases across the rest of the Sprint workforce were less impressive, one can safely assume. But in a show of solidarity with the ordinary worker, Claure at least made do without a pay rise in the 2016/17 fiscal year.

Outside China, only one executive made less than $1.2 million in total compensation. Unsurprisingly, that was one of only two women on the CEO list: Proximus boss Dominique Leroy, who earned about $1.15 million last year. Chua Sock Koong, the other female CEO, did rather better as the boss of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY), earning $1.25 million in basic pay and $3.7 million in "other" compensation in the 2016/17 fiscal year. That is some kind of progress, perhaps.

This is all dreadfully commie, I hear (some of you) cry. Entrepreneurs and leaders are the fertile ground of any well-functioning economy and must be nourished accordingly. With this kind of abuse from Light Reading, they might as well take Ayn Rand's advice and clear off, leaving the rest of us to wallow in our mediocrity. After all, with the emergence of a robot workforce, who needs people, anyway? (See Huawei Can Help Cut 90% of Networks Operations Jobs, Says Senior Exec .)

Table 1: Executive Compensation in Americas

Executive Operator Country Basic salary ($) Compensation
Randall Stephenson AT&T USA 1,800,000 24,274,273
John Legere T-Mobile US USA 1,500,000 20,059,915
Lowell McAdam Verizon Communications USA 1,600,000 17,937,581
Joe Natale Rogers Communications Canada 687,834 10,375,978
George Cope Bell Canada Canada 1,094,520 8,944,238
Darren Entwistle Telus Canada 1,074,975 8,925,130
Marcel Claure Sprint USA 1,500,000 7,473,093
Source: Bloomberg, companies, SEC.

Table 2: Executive Compensation in Asia-Pacific

Executive Operator Country Basic salary ($) Compensation
Chua Sock Koong SingTel Singapore 1,246,028 4,962,379
Simon Moutter Spark New Zealand New Zealand 1,016,915 2,649,538
Vinod Anand Kumar Tata Communications India 912,496 2,547,271
Chang Gyu Hwang KT Corp South Korea 531,515 2,259,634
Gopal Vittal Bharti Airtel India 1,402,557 1,872,642
Himanshu Kapania Idea Cellular India 917,778 1,511,510
Masayoshi Son SoftBank Japan 1,082,367 1,285,889
Dong Hyun Jang (former CEO) SK Telecom South Korea 528,732 1,230,925
Li Yue China Mobile China 123,867 147,815
Wang Xiaochu China Unicom China 30,927 143,057
Yang Jie China Telecom China 32,830 135,444
Source: Bloomberg, companies, SEC.

Table 3: Executive Compensation in Europe

Executive Operator Country Basic salary ($) Compensation
Vittorio Colao Vodafone UK 1,409,325 7,375,059
Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Telefónica Spain 2,356,759 6,567,861
Timotheus Hottges DT Germany 1,776,975 5,817,020
Eelco Blok KPN Netherlands 1,041,675 4,715,724
Stephane Richard Orange France 1,102,950 2,124,098
Gavin Patterson BT UK 1,388,115 1,880,176
Alejandro Plater Telekom Austria Austria 685,055 1,408,100
Dominique Leroy Proximus Belgium 631,265 1,148,175
Amos Genish Telecom Italia Italy 441,180 442,406
Source: Bloomberg, companies, SEC.

NOTE: Some companies that report to an end-March fiscal year have yet to publish data on executive pay for 2017/18, including Bharti Airtel, BT, Idea Cellular, SingTel, SoftBank, Sprint, Tata Communications and Vodafone. In all of those cases, we have used data for the 2016/17 fiscal year. Dong Hyun Jang is no longer CEO at SK Telecom but was during the period in question, while Eelco Blok is no longer CEO at KPN. Compensation data for Telecom Italia's Amos Genish, who took charge of the Italian operator partway through 2017, covers the period from September 28 to December 31, 2017. All currency conversions have been made using exchange rates on April 23, 2018.

— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

kq4ym 5/3/2018 | 8:08:29 AM
Re: Missing? While I'm not immune to the sins of greed and gluttony myself, I've long wondered why executives need and even deserve benefits in the millions. It does seem an extreme in the whole of capitalism that so many are so highly paid while the average worker may find it difficult to pay the bills for his or her family.  One might wonder if this situation is a permanent feature of society with little to be done about it or to study any benefits or detractions due to it?
komatineni 4/23/2018 | 7:21:39 PM
Missing? Is it that the data is not available for the likes of Telstra, NTT et al?
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