Shareholders Vent Anger Over Exec Paychecks
Sir Martin Sorrell is not the first company boss to have his nose bloodied in the "Shareholder Spring" but the enigmatic, bombastic and outspoken character behind the world's biggest ad agency is by far the most prominent.
The man who defied the Treasury by shifting WPP's tax base to a brass-plate operation in Dublin was just as defiant when challenged over his £12.9m pay award for 2011.
He took it upon himself to write to the Financial Times and said: "I find the controversy over my compensation deeply disturbing.
"Some imagine that I wake up every morning and make decisions, including those over compensation, in the shaving mirror.
"The board's compensation decisions are right because they reward performance, not failure."
It was a provocative statement given that around 40% of WPP shareholders rejected his pay award in 2010 and as D-Day loomed it became increasingly obvious that the tide of shareholder sentiment had turned against the board.
Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, Sarah Wilson, the chief executive of Manifest, the proxy voting agency said: "They (shareholders) were consulted, they gave feedback, they said they weren't happy.
"The rewards are really very toppy even for a FTSE 100 company. He's not an entrepreneur anymore, there are thousands of people in that organisation that deliver the value."
Chairman Philip Lader struck a more conciliatory tone in the The Sunday Telegraph: "The board has the responsibility to exercise the best commercial judgment and we did so with careful extensive deliberation as we have sought to explain to shareholders.
"That said, while directors are expected to exercise best judgment, we're also responsible to shareholders."
The culture clash between company managers and owners has rarely been greater and with the government intent on giving shareholders the power to veto executive pay, boardrooms are taking note.
But unlike other recent revolts such as the toppling of Sly Bailey after a decade of decline at Trinity Mirror, Sir Martin has guided WPP throughout an incredibly successful 27 years.
He took a company that made wire shopping-baskets and turned it into the world's biggest ad agency.
As he pointed out at the AGM, a £1,000 investment in 1985 would be worth £46,000 today.
150,000 staff in 107 countries and revenue of £10bn last year are all impressive numbers but the 18% increase in pre-tax profits last year paled in comparison to the a 56% increase in Sorrell's pay.
Shareholders were also unimpressed by a 15% drop in prices in a year in which the FTSE 100 fell by an average of 6%.
Sorrell is one of those "rock-star" businessmen who is admired by rivals and courted by politicians and there is no doubting his ability.
He is inextricably linked to the global powerhouse he effectively created and there is no chance he will leave it.
Funny then that he talks about the need to pay competitive salaries to keep ahead of the competition because he's not likely to jump ship to a rival.
"The most wounding comment....is that I deserve a "bloody nose" because I have been behaving as an owner, rather than as a "highly paid manager", he opined to the FT.
"If that is so, mea culpa. I thought that was the object of the exercise, to behave like an owner and entrepreneur and not a bureaucrat."
But what Sorrell misjudged is how much he could behave as if he "owns" WPP while only actually holding a 2% stake.
The 98% are rejecting the Gordon Gekko mantra: Greed is not good and before long boardrooms will have no choice but to listen.
:: Shareholder Spring: Sorrell Loses Pay Vote