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Telco Fat Cats: Still Worth It?

While some of the head honchos in telecom have taken hefty pay cuts in the last few years, they probably aren't yet worried about the price of milk.

Iain Morris

April 23, 2018

10 Min Read
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.)

Figure 1: 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.

Figure 2: 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 .)

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.

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.

Executive

Operator

Country

Basic salary ($)

Compensation

Vittorio Colao

Vodafone

UK

1,409,325

7,375,059

Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete

Telefonica

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

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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