Thursday, July 30, 2020 / 05:40 AM / By Proshare
Research / Header Image Credit: EcoGraphics
CEO Remuneration Report 2020-Executive Summary
"The great irony of executive compensation is, if you pay your employees more, you're gonna create more demand for your goods and services! Which is gonna lead to more executive compensation than if you pay your employees less and try to take all the cream off of the top." Anthony Scaramucci ("The Mooch")
Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of organizations have increasingly come under the hammer as corporate analysts continue to question the growing size of C-suite executive pay compared to the slower revenue performance of their respective organizations, analysts have fretted that top executive pay in Nigeria has not lined up with the recent growth rates reflected in corporate gross earnings and operating profit.
In a seminal report published by Proshare in 2019 on Executive Remuneration a few of the critical observations included the following:
Illustration 1: Top Ten Highest Paid CEOs in Nigeria by Sector in 2019
Those were some of the observations for the 2019 review of executive compensation in Nigeria reflecting statements of financial affairs contained in the audited annual accounts of companies in 2018, but the 2020 report takes its data set from the audited annual accounts of companies in 2019, meaning that the data set does not capture any of the potential impacts of COVID-19 on executive remuneration from the financial year 2020. Nevertheless, as the realities of the likely impact of COVID-19 on bottom lines settle into corporate consciousness understanding the consequences of the virus on executive pay in years ahead cannot be avoided. The new report, therefore, takes a peek at the possible impact of the COVID-19 virus on executive compensation in a business world still stumbling through the motions of clarity and stability.
Illustration 2: Understanding COVID-19 on CEOs Pay
New Day's Work
Before the hammering of COVID-19 in 2020, most CEOs were confident that the tough business years post 2016/2017 recession was behind them. The optimism was justified by rising gross earnings, falling impairment charges and tumbling non-performing loans (NPLs) in the banking sector. For non-bank actors, rising sales and falling operating costs, despite relatively high finance charges held out possibilities of stronger profit and loss statements and livelier statements of financial positions or balance sheets. However, that optimism has been quickly replaced by apprehension concerning the business outlook from the financial year 2020, FY 2020 may become a definitive game-changer in determining how C-suite execs get compensated for their work or lack of it.
In 2020 companies will expect sales to slide as they try to protect profit numbers by cutting back sales, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses in addition to cutting down on their distribution and marketing costs. How successful this will be will depend on the specific industry and whether the business is internally-focused or externally-focused. Businesses that depend heavily on foreign revenues and foreign inputs will likely suffer severe foreign exchange pressure and this could hurt both sales and profit margins. Businesses that are inward-looking are less likely to be subject to the swings in foreign exchange rates and difficulties in foreign exchange access, this would seem to suggest that inward-looking businesses may weather the COVID-19 storm better than their more outward-focused counterparts who, in addition to foreign exchange difficulties, will need to resolve the slow rebuilding of global supply networks.
Nigerian Telcos, for example, are focused internally on customer service interface and user experience (UI/UX), providing Nigerians with digital voice and data solutions that enhance the quality of their business and personal lives. Revenues have increased significantly for these companies between 2019 and 2020. MTN Nigeria results for FY 2019 showed that the Telecomms giant's gross revenues rose from N1.04trn in FY 2018 to N1.17trn in FY2019 representing a growth of +12.75%. Indeed, over the same period, the company's profit before tax rose by +31.07% increasing from N221.34bn in FY 2018 to N290.10bn in FY 2019.
Despite a myriad of COVID-19 related supply chain problems in 2020, MTN Nigeria was still able to push sales up and sustain profitability. The Telco was able to grow its data income which benefitted from the 'low base' effect of a large data service deficit in 2018 and 2019 (data income previously represented roughly 16.60% of earnings in Q1 2019); to scramble to an improved data revenue performance of about 22.48% of gross revenue by Q1 2020.
The company's Q1 2020 results were indeed instructive. The company's gross revenue rose by +16.68% from N282.12bn in Q1 2019 to N329.17bn in Q1 2020. MTN's voice revenue grew from N182.82bn in Q1 2019 to N194.04bn in Q1 2020 representing a rise of +6.14%. The rise in data revenue, on the other hand, was more rapid as data income climbed from N46.56bn in Q1 2019 to N74.01bn in Q1 2020, reflecting a rise of +58.65%. The surge in MTN's data revenue may reshape the company's revenue structure going forward as increased data usage brought about by increased individual and corporate remote work activities put pressure on data service delivery and revenue.
Table 1: MTN Profit Margin
The shifting service delivery expectations for Telcos may help them improve their revenues but it may also place them in a strange and unfamiliar competitive reality. Telcos may migrate from just providing plain vanilla voice and data services to becoming payment and settlement platforms for commercial transactions placing them in a direct competitive crossfire with fintech, banks and e-commerce platforms.
MTN's Blue Ocean Choices
Can MTN create a situation of uncontested markets as it grows its top line income? That would be a difficult call to make but its six curves transitioning plan throws up a couple of interesting options.
MTN's six curve plan contains the following primary features
The MTN example would be true for other Telcos looking beyond yesterday's gradually fading business model. The COVID-19 reality is a period of grand reset for virtually all businesses, the hospitality, aviation, and education sectors may never stay the same as social distancing becomes a new norm that reshapes service delivery and demand.
The Coming Summer Battles
Going forward Telcos and fintech will have to come to some form of collaboration or consensus ad idem (a meeting of the minds). The specific nature of that collaboration remains hazy but the rise in MTN's foray into the enterprise market and the growth of its data revenue creates the broad strokes for an aggressive push towards a business model that allows the company to develop additional business value from a variety of non-Telco-related activities.
With millennials, Gen X and Gen Zers coming forcefully into the work, play and social engagement space by spending an average of six (6) hours a day on the internet, the likely opportunities for both Telcos and fintech remain large.
The young Nigerian demography means that the Telco market will grow at double-digits for the next decade at least. With over 60% of the Nigerian population below the age of 35 years and a large proportion of this population savvy enough to operate mobile phones and open social media accounts, the consumer retail market and the SME enterprise solutions business will see sizable growth. For Gen-Zers consumption is seen more as access than possession.
The Gen Zer wants to possess awareness and understanding of socio-economic development as much as, if not more than, physical assets (see Illustration 1). While it is true than Gen Zers have a fetish for wealth and a sense of the 'good' life, they are also acutely aware of the fragile nature of wealth not anchored on a clear value-creation model. In the 'madness' of gaining social popularity or notoriety, the generation tries to find alternative cash flow propositions. Popular social influencers convert their image into cash-generating brands and then invest the cash flow from social influencing in real estate, product brand extension (clothing, makeup etc.) and money and equities market investments (see Illustration 3).
Illustration 3: Understanding Gen Zers
The reality of the new demography is that for CEOs to sustain their remunerations as their businesses gradually grow, they must plug into the psychology of the new consumer. From Telcos to Oil & Gas companies, to Banks and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) companies, the consumer product or service journey must be approached in a manner that ensures sustained satisfaction. The past arrogance of the firm may subtly be replaced by a deeper understanding of the significance of the new market power of consumers during and post-COVID-19.
The New Consumer Reality
Within a COVID-19 world, the consumer would look towards obtaining goods and services within a market framework that is dependable, fast, and qualitative. The new consumer with access to a large amount of comparative data on vendors and service providers will likely press firms to deliver goods or services within exacting new standards as their incomes thin down or remain flat and their sensitivity to quality-for-payment becomes heightened.
Corporations will increasingly need to figure out how to add value to service and goods at lower operating costs. The challenge will be for companies to improve the quality of their goods and services while avoiding passing the heavier incidence of supply chain disruption costs to consumers. According to Chris Okenwa, Managing Director, FSB Securities, "this is like asking companies to give consumers higher quality of goods or services but at lower prices, given the realities of escalating costs brought about by either supply chain disruptions or supply chain switching, the possibility of companies coming down on prices is as good as hoping for father Christmas to give presents in June, the idea is novel but unlikely", Okenwa insists.
Says Okenwa, "definitely consumers are going to be more finicky than in the past but their desire for bargain basement deals in a period of COVID-19 may not happen. The laws of the market are usually inviolable and where they are broken there are consequences. Consumers are growing in power but rising costs are equally as significant a consideration for companies" the equity analyst noted. The trimming or loss of incomes of workers has put downward pressure on retail sector demand and so companies in 2020 may increasingly look for ways of providing services and goods at price propositions that reflect the consumer's depressed buying capacity.
The outlook for consumer demand in 2020 is dim. To compound the problem of a fall in consumer spending is a recent rise in consumption or value-added tax (VAT) from 5% in 2019 to 7.5% in February 2020. With tax increases and lower salaries and other incomes, the constrained consumer spending wallet in 2020 will affect the way companies reset their operations to meet buyer's expectations as they trade down and search for lower-cost items that continue to meet basic needs.
The consequence of smaller consumer budgets will be a decline in corporate revenues which in turn may lead to a fall in the remuneration of CEOs in 2020, especially in situations where companies do not see a sustained revenue recovery occurring soon. Some CEOs in companies in Europe and America have already conceded to some salary adjustments even if, temporary. For example, Arne Sorenson of Marriott International, the global premium hospitality franchise, has agreed to forgo his salary for the rest of 2020. In the aviation sector, America's Delta Airlines CEO Ed. Bastian has agreed to forgo six months of his salary in 2020. Alan Joyce CEO of Qantas Airlines has also agreed not to be paid a salary for half of the year. Other CEOs in other business sectors have equally accepted milder reductions in their salaries for the year 2020.
The consumer outlook in 2020 will be critical to corporate top-line earnings growth and bottom-line advancements. The likely decline in earnings growth will put downward pressure on profitability resulting in lower returns on equity (RoE) and lower returns on assets (RoA). As shareholders see a fall in dividend payouts and a slide in corporate earnings, several issues become compelling among which would be executive remuneration.
The Ariely Detour
Behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, in a recent book, "The Upside of Irrationality" noted that, "paying people high bonuses can result in high performance when it comes to simple mechanical tasks, but the opposite can happen when you ask them to use their brains-which is usually what companies try to do when they pay executives very high bonuses. If senior Vice-Presidents were paid to lay bricks, motivating them through high bonuses would make sense. But people who receive bonus-based incentives for thinking about mergers and acquisitions or Coming up with complicated financial instruments could be far less effective than we tend to think-and there may even be negative consequences to really large bonuses."
Ariely's study suggested that C-Suite executives had notions of strategic corporate relevance far above what the top-line and bottom-line earnings of companies would indicate. Of course, the executives sampled strongly disagreed with Ariely and tried to justify their earnings but the compensation of chief executives of corporations still suggests fifty shades of grey. Why CEOs earn what they do regardless of the performance of their companies requires deeper investigation.
Shareholders Disturbing Silence
In recent years in Nigeria, shareholders have lost their voices. The once-powerful activism of shareholders in the 1980s and 1990s has given way to a disturbing silence in the 2000s. Shareholders have gradually become uncritical rubber stamps to the corporate boardroom as directors have taken shareholder's consent of boardroom decisions as predictable. Shareholders have become optical illusions to advertise corporate governance compliance but their role as a check on company activity is muted.
Shareholders have been majorly powerless in determining both corporate direction and executive remuneration. It would be expected, for example, that shareholders of Nigeria's larger corporations would over the years have insisted on greater female representation in boardrooms, this case was made on page 40 of the 2019 CEO Remuneration report where it was noted that "Despite a general perception that women make better corporate managers than men, in Nigeria's top highest-paid executives not a single woman is featured. Not a single woman appears in the top 20 highest-paid CEOs of companies listed on the NSE. The absence of a woman on the list of the top 20 most highly paid executives of companies on the NSE speaks to the relatively weak corporate positioning of women in Nigerian Boardrooms; while it is true that women like Ibukun Awosika of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) are Chairpersons of top-rated institutions, Awosika is an exception rather than the rule and her position as a non-executive Chairperson does not place her in the highest ranks of corporate income earners in executive Boardrooms of listed companies."
Besides, it would also have been expected that shareholders would have insisted that corporate chief executive remunerations and that of other executive directors should be closely tied to annual corporate performance or an average of corporate performance over three years to adjust for special situations (such as COVID-19). The inconvenient indolence of shareholders has had the disturbing effect of making board executives less accountable to owners of the business and less focused on sustained growth in return on equity (RoE) which in turn has resulted in suppressed corporate valuation.
Ideally, the best combination of the corporate relationship between corporate boards and shareholders is that both should represent strong counterparts to ensure best-in-class internal governance standards and strategic alignment with longer-term corporate goals (see Illustration 4).
Illustration 4: The Shareholder Board of Directors Power Matrix
In Section 1 of the CEO Remuneration Report issues centred on how boardrooms and shareholders resolve executive compensation are addressed, revealing the complexity of the CEO's compensation decision. Normally, this may have been agreed by the board of directors and the shareholder's representatives waiting for formal approval at an annual general meeting (AGM), but in the murky world of corporate decision making who is the piper that ministers to the paymaster? Naturally, a piper plays a series of tunes on request by his paying audience, so would it stand to reason that shareholders have greater sway in how their companies are run and how their C-suite executives are paid? Should executive pay be tied to corporate returns on equity or some other tangible metrics? Well not necessarily, corporate boards have a distinct internal logic that makes members captains of their fate and masters of their destiny although public limited liability companies (PLCs) are not private partnerships in which the partners determine the mode of individual rewards. The section discusses the different shades of opinion on the matter of how the piper gets paid and who precisely dictates the tune?
Section 2 deals with the many sides of C-suite compensation reviewing executive compensation across industries and showing the disparity of CEO compensation industry-by-industry. For example, it would be foolhardy for a CEO in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) market like Unilever's CEO Yaw Nsorkoh (who was paid N302.52m in 2019 despite a company loss of N10.07bn in the same period) to tag the compensation of a chief executive officer of a Telco, particularly MTN Nigeria (Ferdy Moolman CEO of MTN Nigeria earned N585.94m in 2019). But anomalies do exist, in the banking sector Union Bank of Nigeria's (UBN's) CEO, Emeke Emuwa still earned the second-largest pay at N172m behind GTBank's Segun Agbaje at N399.7m.
Although Emuwa earned -56.97% less than his GTBank counterpart he was well ahead of Tier-1 Bank's Herbert Wigwe who racked in a relatively modest compensation of N85.16m in 2019. In the top ten highest-earning CEOs in Nigeria for 2019 four came from the consumer goods sector suggesting that 2019 was a well-deserved reprieve from the recessionary pressures of 2016/2017, but going into 2020 a reversal in fortunes may be expected as COVID-19-inspired disruptions to local and global supply chains and a projected fall in consumer demand trigger lower sales and higher inventories.
Section 3 of the Report looks at the upside of rational executive compensation (loosely making a play on behavioural economist's Dan Ariely's book the "Upside of Irrationality"). The section reviews executive compensation in comparison to a series of ratios which include the ratio of the company's highest-paid executive to the company's profit before tax, the ratio of the company's highest-paid executive to its total staff cost and the ratio of the company's highest-paid executive to the company's annual turnover or sales. The results were mixed. For some companies, a rise in the CEO pay reflected a general rise in staff cost (MTN Nigeria Plc), for other companies the CEO's pay seemed to have risen despite a dip in overall staff cost (Nigerian Breweries Plc). The mixed relationship between staff cost and CEO pay remains an issue that corporate analysts, shareholders and other stakeholders may need to look at more closely.
Section 4 takes a detour on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the outlook for corporate compensation in 2020 referencing emerging global developments where CEO's of company's volunteered different temporary pay cut packages to align with the expected downturn in corporate earnings. For example, Arne Sorenson of Hospitality giant Marriot International agreed to forgo his salary for the rest of 2020. Ed Bastian of Delta Airlines agreed to go without a salary for six months. Alan Joyce of Qantas Airline also agreed not to collect a salary for the rest of 2020. With the reality of the consequences of COVID-19 and its disruption to revenues, CEOs are behaving with uncommon (or perhaps forced) grace globally (see Illustration 5).
Illustration 5: CEOs Foregoing Salaries to Support Corporate Strategy
Muted shareholder activism has played a part in boards being emboldened to take compensation decisions with only a passing reference to shareholders Section 5 of this Report, therefore, took a look at the relationship between shareholders expectation, executive compensation and dividend payouts in 2019.
Section 6 of the Report looks at the nexus between productivity and C-suite pay and makes a case a balance between performance and executive compensation, it also takes a look at how a growth-share matrix could help in the understanding of corporate operating outcomes and the decisions made to reward managers (see Illustration 6).
Illustration 6: The Growth-Share Matrix
The report concludes in section 7 that post-COVID-19 corporations are going to come under increasing pressure to align C-suite executive remuneration to their value addition to both corporate top-line and bottom-line growth. The era where CEOs could hide behind the finger of strategic thinking and its attendant premium is over. If the CEO has any superior strategic capacity let it reflect in the company's profit and loss (P&L) account. According to Segun Atere, Head of Trading Strategy at Apel Assets and Trust, "If CEOs are going to pull off the less-than-clever stunt of squeezing fat bonuses from average or below average performances in 2020, then shareholders must have gone on metal vacation. But who knows? Blessed are the ignorant for they shall not be disappointed", he noted.
The new world of corporate resets is not a fad, it is at the core of business survival and far more important than humungous paychecks, CEOs are going to be entwined over the next two years at the very least, with issues of making machine belts hum than fish-fillet and caviar. They have been welcomed, even if unwillingly, to a new market play.
Downloadable Versions of 2020 Report (PDF)
Previous Year's Report and Links
2. Top 10 highest earning CEO's in Nigeria - Nairametrics - July 10, 2020
3. Tinubu, Avuru top list of highest paid CEOs of quoted Nigerian companies - BusinessDay - April 23, 2019