Leighton chief blames salary on US bosses

Leighton Holdings chief executive Wal King has offered shareholders a surprising defence for his $12.6 million annual salary.

Leighton Holdings chief executive Wal King has defended his $12.6 million 2009/10 pay package, blaming the huge number on US executives who come to work in Australia and inflate senior salaries.

King offered the unexpected defence yesterday at Leighton’s annual shareholder meeting in Sydney, where he ran into voices of opposition over what many deem an exorbitant salary, which includes a $5 million cash bonus.

According to King, the US directors not only come to Australia on huge remuneration packages, but also show disdain for the country while they are here.

“You name me one American chief executive that has stayed in Australia. I think all they have done is ratchet up the salaries for guys like me,” he said at the meeting.

“They’ve parachuted in, told us what a crappy country we have and how we’re all so dopey; we don’t know what we’re doing; sort it all out and get a big loan. It’s true.”

Yesterday’s meeting saw more than 11% of Leighton’s shareholders vote against the company’s pay packages.

Influential corporate governance risk advisory groups RiskMetrics and CGI Glass Lewis both released reports last week recommending their members reject Leighton’s remuneration report, saying that it did not reflect the best interest for shareholders and the size of their pay packages is excessive given local market standards.

King, who has been Leighton’s chief executive since 1987, is believed to have been paid up to $75 million over the past six years, making him one of the highest paid executives in Australia.

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