Saturday 11 January 2020 11:50 am

WH Smith faces backlash over new chief executive's pension package

WH Smith has been criticised by investors for the size of its new chief executive’s pension contribution.

Carl Cowling is being paid a pension contribution worth 12.5 per cent of his salary.

The Investment Association has issued its strongest-possible objection to the payment, which it says is not in line with the average employee, as first reported by Sky News.

Read more: Former WH Smith chief executive handed £3.4m in final pay packet


WH Smith defended the contribution in its annual report saying Cowling does not earn as much as his predecessor, Stephen Clarke.

The former chief executive received twice the pension contribution award but the company has since reduced what it gives executives.

Cowling will earn £525,000 this year with a bonus of up to 160 per cent of his salary, as well as the pension contribution.

All WH Smith executives are eligible for the defined contribution pension plan or can receive a salary supplement in lieu, but other employees are not offered the same perks.

The firm has not disclosed what the average contribution is for UK workers.

Less than half of its 14,000 employees have up to its pension scheme.

Read more: WH Smith ramps up overseas drive with $400m US deal


The warning from the Investment Association, which represents the shareholders of public companies, has come due to feedback received by its members, many of whom are large shareholders in WH Smith.

In a statement about the association’s new and more vocal approach, director Andrew Ninian said: “Providing directors the same pension contributions as the rest of the workforce is fundamentally an issue of fairness.” 

WH Smith will hold an annual meeting on 22 January where matters such as executive pay will be up for a vote.

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