Shareholder adviser rebukes Berkshire over executive pay

A large shareholder advisory firm has rebuked Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) for awarding large pay packages to the two leading candidates to succeed Warren Buffett as chief executive.

Institutional Shareholder Services noted that Vice Chairmen Greg Abel and Ajit Jain were each awarded $16 million in salary and $3 million in bonuses in 2020, the same as in 2019, and said it was “unclear” whether any of their pay was tied to Berkshire’s performance.

The firm said the “continued lack of transparency” raised questions about oversight by Berkshire’s compensation committee, and recommended that shareholders withhold votes to reelect its members – Susan Decker, David Gottesman, Walter Scott Jr. and Meryl Witmer – as Berkshire directors.

Berkshire does not grant stock options. It did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment on ISS’s April 16 report.

ISS also offered “cautionary support” for Buffett, citing the Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit’s failure to set greenhouse gas emissions targets or commit to being net-zero by 2050.

Abel oversees non-insurance units and Jain oversees insurance units at Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire, whose dozens of businesses include the Geico car insurer and BNSF railroad.

Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger focus on capital allocation and investments.

Berkshire has recommended that shareholders reelect all 14 directors at its May 1 annual meeting, and reject shareholder proposals for greater disclosures about its efforts to address climate change and promote diversity and inclusion.

Shareholders will not attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Berkshire will let the diversity and inclusion proposal be presented remotely.

Buffett controls close to one-third of Berkshire’s voting power. That makes it difficult for shareholders to prevail on votes when he is on the opposite side.