WHSmith to face backlash over CEO Carl Cowling’s pension

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WHSmith Carl Cowling
CEO Carl Cowling is being paid a pension contribution worth 12.5% of his salary
// WHSmith to face backlash over a pension award to its CEO Carl Cowling
// The Investment Association has issued a red-top alert

WHSmith is reportedly on the verge of becoming the first major retailer to face a pay backlash this year over a pension award to chief executive Carl Cowling.

The Investment Association (IA) has issued a red-top alert over the retailer’s remuneration report ahead of this month’s AGM, Sky News reported.

The IA’s alert acknowledges that Cowling is being paid a pension contribution worth 12.5 per cent of his salary – a proportion higher than the average paid to the retailer’s workforce.


READ MORE: WHSmith investors back £305m takeover of US group MRG


The IA has pledged to recommend voting against pay reports where new executive directors receive higher awards than their employees.

In its annual report, the company said it had made that decision when investor groups’ guidance on pension awards “was still evolving”.

“[The company] took into account the new guidance around pension provision when setting arrangements for Carl Cowling upon his appointment as a director in February 2019, reducing the Company’s pension contribution by 50 per cent,” WHSmith said in its annual report.

Any new executive director appointments “will be aligned with the then average rate available to UK employees more generally”.

Cowling joined WHSmith in May last year, replacing Stephen Clarke who stepped down from the retailer after 15 years.

Prior to WHSmith, Cowling spent a decade serving for Dixons where he became the managing director of Dixons Travel.

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