Long-time Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick eked out another lucrative victory today at the company’s annual shareholder meeting with a narrow vote of 54% in favour of maintaining his generous salary and millions in annual bonuses. The win comes after a year-long campaign by CtW Investor Group to rein in what it calls the Call of Duty boss’ “excessive executive pay.”
“We are pleased that, based on exceptional shareholder returns and responsiveness, Activision Blizzard shareholders again approved our say-on-pay proposal and reelected our Board directors with an average of 96% of votes,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard wrote in an email. While shareholders overwhelmingly voted to re-elect the company’s board of directors, only 54% approved of the say-on-pay proposal, the lowest number ever according to the CtW Investment Group.
Originally scheduled to take place on June 14, Activision Blizzard ultimately delayed the vote until today “based on requests from shareholders for additional time.” A say-on-pay proposal is a non-binding vote that lets shareholders either voice support or reject CEO pay terms. As Axios reported, a failed vote would put increased pressure on the company to further reduce Kotick’s pay.
“It appears Activision did just enough arm-twisting for its Say on Pay measure to pass, nearly failing to receive majority support with only 54% of votes cast in favour,” Michael Varner, director of executive compensation research at CtW, told Kotaku in an email. “Such marginal support for Say on Pay votes is extremely rare: fewer than 4% of companies in the broader Russell 3000 index receive support around 50%, with average support in the S&P 500 at 88.6%.”
Despite slashing his base salary from $US1,750,000 ($2,244,550) down to $US850,000 ($1,090,210) earlier this year, Kotick makes most of his money from annual bonuses. Even with the lower salary, he could still be on track to earn tens of millions more, as he has over the last several years thanks to Activision Blizzard’s exploding stock value during the pandemic.
For its part, Activision Blizzard maintains that the amended compensation will result in significant cuts to Kotick’s pay over the next year, and argues he deserves his massive past payouts for helping the company’s stock price balloon.
“Mr. Kotick, the longest tenured CEO of a public technology company, has transformed Activision Blizzard, achieved record results, doubled the value of the company, and delivered more than $US45 ($58) billion in additional shareholder value since his employment agreement took effect in October 2016,” a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku. “Under his leadership, he has turned Activision Blizzard into one of the most important and valuable entertainment and technology companies in the world, increased jobs, and led major strategic investments that have enabled the company to far outpace most of its peers.”
The shareholder vote comes after Activision Blizzard announced layoffs across various parts of the company back in March. The number of employees affected was less than 2% of its total staff, or around 190 people, Bloomberg reported at the time. Amidst these and other layoffs at the company, developers within Blizzard have been pushing for more transparency and equity around employee pay. According to documents reviewed by Bloomberg, some junior developers there reported being paid less than $US40,000 ($51,304) a year, or less than a fraction of a per cent of Kotick’s total 2020 earnings. But hey, Call of Duty machine go Brrr.