The pay packets of bosses at New Zealand's largest listed companies grew at more than three times the rate of workers' wages last year.

The latest Herald executive pay survey reveals that the average remuneration received by the heads of the top public firms surged by 12 per cent in 2015, to $1.68 million.

That's up from the $1.5 million paid, on average, to these same chief executives in 2014.

INTERACTIVE: Explore the profit and CEO's salaries of New Zealand's top 50 listed companies


The increase is the second year running in which bosses have enjoyed double-digit pay bumps, building on an average rise of 10 per cent in 2014.

Compare that to average wage growth.

In June 2015, the average amount earned each week by full-time workers was up 3.2 per cent from the year before.

In 2014, those earnings grew by 2.7 per cent.

Although recent years have been kind to executive pay packets, they did shrink during 2011 and 2012 in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Aside from that 24-month period, bosses' pay has risen every year since 2004 when the Herald pay survey began, with their average remuneration nearly doubling over that time.

The survey covers the heads of New Zealand's top 50 listed companies, for the 2015 financial year.


Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings was paid more than any of his peers at publicly-listed firms, taking home $4.94 million in 2015.

While never far from the pinnacle of the pay survey, the last time a Fonterra boss ascended to the top was in 2011 when departing chief executive Andrew Ferrier was paid $5 million.

Spierings' remuneration came under fire when it was first revealed last September, around the time the co-operative prepared to lay off 750 staff.

He has requested a salary freeze for this financial year.

Spierings' 18 per cent pay rise in 2015 saw him dethrone ANZ New Zealand chief executive David Hisco, who slipped to second place.

Hisco, crowned king of the pay survey in 2013 and 2014, received $4.18 million last year - a drop of 2.3 per cent.

Fletcher Building boss Mark Adamson held his own last year, retaining third place with pay of just over $4 million, while Air New Zealand's Christopher Luxon and Spark's Simon Moutter rose up the ranks to fourth and fifth.

The pair also enjoyed the biggest pay bumps in the survey.

Moutter's remuneration ($3.6 million) was up by $1.4 million while Luxon's pay ($3.7 millon) rose by a slightly more modest $1.2 million.

The biggest percentage increase, however, was received by now-departed Tower boss David Hancock, whose $2 million pay packet was up by almost 180 per cent on the previous year.

Tech bosses Ian McCrae and Rod Drury also enjoyed healthy remuneration rises.
Orion Health's McCrae earned 46 per cent more in 2015 than in 2014, while Xero's Drury earned 44 per cent more.

Neither chief executive, however, was the highest-paid employee at their company.
While only one Orion Health worker earned more than McCrae, four people at Xero took home more than Drury.


The question of how much executives should be paid is a fair one and should never be avoided, says remuneration expert John McGill, who heads the consultancy Strategic Pay.

He says international influences help to determine the going rate for New Zealand's top bosses.

"For larger listed companies in New Zealand, they recruit internationally for the jobs as well as locally ... and the reverse occurs. New Zealand chief executives apply for jobs overseas and take them," he says.

Some of the big increases in the Herald's pay survey were due to large bonuses being paid to bosses.

While base salary increases tended to line up with inflation, McGill says these payments were based on performance.

"If the organisation's results are there and usually for chief executives financial results are pretty critical ... the individual gets a reward. That's how it should work," he says.

But the Council of Trade Unions policy director, Bill Rosenberg, says that if chief executives are getting pay increases of 12 per cent, their workers should too.

"The chief executive depends on the work of the people in the company ... increases in profit of a company are entirely dependent of the people who work there," he says.


No women are in this year's pay survey. That's because no women are at the helm of any big listed New Zealand companies.

YWCA Auckland chief executive Monica Briggs says the same problems contributing to the gender pay gap are contributing to a lack of female chief executives in this country.

Briggs says there is a misconception that women taking time to have families is the chief cause of gender pay and representation issues.

"There is plenty of evidence to suggest pay gaps are occurring long before women start families," says Briggs, who is launching the YWCA's Equal Pay Awards next month.

"We have our own fascinating insights from past awards programmes. Businesses who talked to us, revealed unexplained pay gaps linked to some of their highest performing female staff. Yet they only discovered this once they took a harder look at the problem and ran the data."