Executive pay can hit a nerve with investors — but recent developments suggest shareholder opinions can differ vastly on the stipend that is appropriate to directors.

Last week poultry group Astral Foods — the epitome of a no-frills corporate culture — found itself in the invidious position of not being able to pay nonexecutive chair Theuns Eloff his R1.1m annual remuneration.

Shareholders voted down the resolution at a general meeting. This was after shareholders voted against the special resolution around Eloff’s remuneration at an AGM in February this year.

Eloff is largely viewed as a hard-working nonexecutive who has added value to Astral’s board. It is understood mainly offshore shareholders using a proxy vote service voted against the resolution.

In stark contrast, shareholders in specialist retailer HomeChoice International overwhelmingly voted in favour of a nonbinding advisory vote on the company’s remuneration policy and its remuneration implementation report.

The vote was registered despite HomeChoice nonexecutive director Rick Garratt earning a hefty R10m in fees.

Notes in the annual report show that Garratt — the founder, former CEO and majority shareholder in HomeChoice — has "a consultancy agreement with an SA subsidiary from which he earns consultancy fees and other related benefits".

Garratt hit the headlines about 15 years ago when he controversially bought out minority shareholders in the old HomeChoice and delisted the company from the JSE.

HomeChoice indicated recently a willingness to raise fresh capital by placing new shares with investors, an exercise likely to be coupled to proposals to allow existing large investors — including Garratt — a chance to sell off some of their shareholding.

To put Garratt’s remuneration in context, Syd Muller earned R794,000 as chair of newly delisted sports and outdoor goods retailer HoldSport, while the total pay to nonexecutives was just R1.7m in financial 2017.

Another specialist retailer, Kaap Agri, paid its nonexecutives R1.9m in financial 2017. Kaap Agri’s total executive remuneration costs came in under R11m.

By way of further comparison, the total executive remuneration at HomeChoice — which has an annual turnover of R3bn — was almost R21m for financial 2017.

The Foschini Group (TFG), with an annual turnover of R23.5bn, showed a total remuneration bill of R20m in financial 2017.

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