India's CEOs earn twice as much in two years

India's CEOs earn twice as much in two years

In India, the world's fastest-growing economy where millions still live in poverty, the remuneration of chief executive officers at top companies is going up. In fact, they are likely to be earning double what they were paid just two years ago.

The average annual CEO salary at 20 private companies listed on India's Sensex, the stock market index, is close to 200 million rupees (S$4 million) for 2015-2016, compared with 100 million rupees in 2013-2014, the Press Trust of India reported recently.

Among the highest paid is Mr Anil Manibhai Naik, the group executive chairman of multinational conglomerate Larsen & Toubro, whose salary tripled to around 660 million rupees from 210 million rupees.

India's corporate sector, which for the most part has been dominated by family-run businesses, has grown exponentially with the entry of multinational companies in the past two decades amid fast-paced economic growth and gradually easing regulations.

The growing demand for CEOs with international experience in India, experts say, means that companies have to offer more attractive pay packages, a major factor behind rising salaries.

"Indian companies have started thinking globally. They are no longer constrained to India," said Mr Shriram Subramanian, founder and managing director of governance research firm InGovern.

"The hunt for talent (in India) is a global hunt now. Companies like Tata Motors and Wipro have hired CEOs from abroad or someone with international experience."

After a two-year search, Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar and Land Rover, brought in Mr Guenter Butschek in February as CEO and managing director for its India and international operations. His pay is reported to be around 270 million rupees, which makes him among the top-earning CEOs in India.

Still, as CEO salaries keep on rising - and often making headlines - questions are being asked if these hefty salaries are justified, or closely tied to company profits or the individual's performance.

Although shareholder activism is rare in India, some believe that it is slowly moving towards greater scrutiny of its top honchos. In 2014, the Securities and Exchange Board of India asked companies to disclose how they decided on compensation for their top management.

"While there is performance pressure in India, CEOs here do not face scrutiny like that in the US," said Mr K. Sudarshan, regional managing partner of Asia at EMA Partners International. He noted that in the US, a CEO's success is measured directly by the health of the company's stock prices.

Nevertheless, CEO salaries are increasingly linked to performance.

Mr S. K. Tripathi, group president of human resources in transnational conglomerate Hinduja Group, which has interests ranging from banking to oil and gas, said underperforming CEOs have their salaries cut.

"Within my group, the highest- paid CEO has almost 62 per cent (of his salary) linked to performance. No one would object to that," Mr Tripathi said.

What has emerged as an area of concern is the growing gap between top salaries and the entry- or mid-level wages.

While CEO salaries have doubled in the past two years, the average salary increase in the same period is only around 10 per cent.

In the case of IT services firm Infosys, its CEO Vishal Sikka earned 490 million rupees in 2015-16.

"At Infosys, the disparity (between CEO and median employee salary) is 935 times," said Mr Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman and managing director of The Head Hunters India.

As Indian companies increasingly go global, experts believe that salaries will continue to go up.

"No one can say it (CEO compensation) should be lower or higher or is right or wrong. It is completely contextual to the job role in the incumbent organisation," said Mr Anandorup Ghose, who leads Aon Hewitt's executive compensation and governance practice for South Asia. "I think the right way to look at it is that Indian CEOs cannot argue they are underpaid."

This article was first published on Sep 12, 2016.
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