IFM Investors chief executive Brett Himbury was grilled by committee chair and Liberal MP Tim Wilson about remuneration on Friday (22 November). Specifically, the CEO was asked what was the largest remuneration package IFM has ever paid an employee.
“We have a remuneration policy that is determined by the board. We are not in a position to disclose. We disclose what we are actually legislatively required to and at the moment that is the disclosure of my remuneration the deputy’s remuneration,” Mr Himbury said.
Mr Wilson repeated his question, asking the IFM Investors CEO directly what is the largest amount an employee has been paid, without identifying any employees.
“I am not in a position to disclose the more granular details of remuneration. I’m happy to disclose the basis upon which it is determined and happy to determine my own, but otherwise we don’t wish to put at risk the commercial in-confidence information that might lead to others, competitors in particular, accessing the people who are responsible for delivering superior returns,” Mr Himbury said.
Mr Wilson asked the IFM boss what the largest severance package that has ever been paid to somebody out of IFM. Mr Himbury took the question on notice.
“Of course, you are very well aware of the Frederic Michel-Verdier case where it was said in the London Central Employment Tribunal in January 2019 that the individual stood to lose between 15 million and 20 million pounds sterling ($36 million) if he was dismissed by IFM?” Mr Wilson asked. “Is that correct?”
Mr Himbury clarified that the claim before the tribunal was “incredibly disappointing”.
Mr Michel-Verdier was a London-based IFM executive director when he was accused of sexually harassing infrastructure analyst Nathalie Abildgaard at a Madrid nightclub in 2018. He left the fund manager in September this year after more than a decade with the group.
“It was a terrible circumstance for her and for the organisation because it is not what we stand for,” he said, describing that the newspaper reports of the matter as “unfounded speculation”.
“Wouldn’t one of the easiest ways to determine whether it is unfounded speculation is to provide clarity around the remuneration practices, including answering the questions that I just asked?” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Himbury said there are “performance fees etc”.
“It is really important to understand that IFM is privately owned by 27 industry superannuation funds. Our level of disclosure is ahead of what we are obliged to do under the laws. To go further than that would be a) inconsistent with market practice and b) put us at a potentially competitive disadvantage. And most importantly, potentially put at risk the capability that we’ve got in this organisation,” he said.
The committee chair interjected, reminding the IFM boss that Australia has just been through a royal commission, where one of the key conclusions by commissioner Hayne was that one of the “major problems in the financial services sector is greed”.
“The thing that we have disclosed is that ultimately through the expenses including the salaries of our organisation we have delivered $31 billion of additional value to working people’s accounts. That is the headline most important number. Otherwise we are doing what we are obliged to do on remuneration disclosures,” Mr Himbury said.
“On that basis,” Mr Wilson replied, “we should all be getting paid a lot more as well.”