"Bonuses should be based on success": Ouch. Johnston Press walloped at AGM by biggest shareholder, activist investor Crystal Amber

William Turvill
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Crystal Amber has built up a stake of more than 20 per cent in Johnston Press (Source: Getty)

Troubled newspaper publisher Johnston Press was given a walloping by its largest shareholder at its annual general meeting (AGM) today.

Some 32 per cent of votes went against its remuneration policy, despite the company watering down its executive pay proposals following investor pressure. Around the same number of shares went against its performance share plan proposals.

The votes against were largely made up of shares owned by activist investor Crystal Amber, which is Johnston Press’ largest shareholder.

Read more: Bad news: Johnston Press records £300m loss due to newspaper writedown

Richard Bernstein, who leads the Crystal Amber fund, told City A.M.: “We think the [chief executive and finance director] should be adopting an ‘all hands on deck approach’ rather than thinking about bonuses. Bonuses should be based on success.”

Sources said Johnston Press had won around other shareholders after diluting previous proposals. Shortly before the AGM, the company announced chief executive Ashley Highfield’s bonus would remain capped at 120 per cent of his £430,000 salary, down from a 180 per cent proposal. Finance chief David King’s bonus, meanwhile, was capped at 100 per cent, down from 165 per cent.

Read more: Activist investor takes swipe at Johnston Press chief executive

Shareholder advisory groups Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) both changed recommendations to vote down the company’s pay policy after the changes were announced.

Noting the negative votes, Johnston Press said: “The company will continue its ongoing dialogue with shareholders at the appropriate time in order to further understand the reasons behind the results of the votes on these resolutions.”

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