Investors are losing their patience with fat executive compensation packages.
That's the early read from H-P's annual meeting today, where investors appeared close to approving a
compensation reform proposal drafted by an angry shareholder, after former president Michael Capellas drew a $26 million severance payout last November.
The measure would force the company to seek investors' OK before granting outsized severance packages to senior executives. They would need to approve severance benefits worth more than 2.99 times the sum of the executive's base salary plus bonus.
The reform proposal was drawn up by the Service Employees International Union AFL-CIO, which owns 44,000 shares of H-P. The resolution is not binding, since compensation is under the board's control.
H-P said in a statement this morning that the results of the vote are "close and still being tabulated."
In another break with the H-P board, shareowners supported a measure recommending a shareholder vote on adopting or extending any poison pill. It also asked the board to redeem any poison pill previously issued. In January, the H-P board terminated a poison pill then in effect.
At annual meetings, investors have historically tended to vote along party lines, favoring the company's position on proposals. Indeed, on other reform measures offered today, the majority supported the H-P board's stance.
Shareholders voted down a measure that would have required the company to expense options. They nixed another measure to award senior executives only with options that are indexed to an industry peer group, so that recipients would profit only if the company outperformed competitors.
But the votes on severance and the approval of the poison pill measure show shareholders are becoming increasingly likely to break ranks. And today's votes are likely a harbinger of other close-fought reform measures, particularly on the compensation front.
Indeed, shareholder activists have said compensation is shaping up to be the No. 1 reform issue at annual meetings this season.
H-P said the final results of the shareholder proposal on severance will be announced as soon as they're available.