If anyone has a sense of déjà vu about a Fonterra boss being paid more than $8 million - they'd be right.

You don't have to look back far in the co-op's history to find one of its bosses getting remuneration to rival that of Theo Spierings' pay packet.

In fact Spierings' predecessor, Andrew Ferrier, pocketed $8.2 million in 2012 after stepping down as Fonterra's chief executive.

Given Fonterra's size, its CEO is always among the country's top earners; the late Craig Norgate became New Zealand's first million dollar man when he took the position in 2001.


And while the amount paid to the co-op's boss has always attracted scrutiny, 2017 was the first year when shareholders and public alike got a breakdown on what it included.
Of Spierings' $8.32 million pay packet in 2017, close to $2.5m represents his salary.
The rest of it is made up of short-term or long-term incentive payments.

About $1.83m of Spierings' remuneration is short-term performance pay from 2016.

According to the company's annual report, its short-term incentive plan is based on someone meeting key performance indicators - including financial ones - that are set by a board committee.

The biggest chunk of Spierings' pay was long-term incentives.

Just over $500,000 related to his performance in 2014 and a little over $200,000 related his 2015 performance.

Two payments - totalling $3.15m - were made under a scheme called the "velocity leadership incentive" and were due to performance in 2016.

"Velocity was designed to achieve significant improvement in business performance by re-setting our business. It encourages a focus on generating cash, operational efficiency and an owners' mindset to commercialise new ideas into additional revenue streams, faster than before," Fonterra said in its report.

And in 2016 - a year when the dairy co-op's net profit shot up 65 per cent - the programme delivered "significantly above expectations in terms of both financial performance arising from efficiency and value creation".


Many people who are struggling to pay the bills will balk at the notion this somehow justifies a bonus of $3m.

NZ First leader Winston Peters also seemed to have trouble with the idea.

"This kind of fat-cat payout is why shareholders need to be given a say on pay," Peters said of Spierings' salary yesterday.

"Shareholders need to be given the power to hold the directors and bosses to account," he said.

But shareholders already do have that power and can hold boards to account every year at annual meetings.

Not only can they voice their objections, they can vote against directors' motions or even their re-election to the board.

It's true New Zealand doesn't have "say on pay" laws (like in the United Kingdom) but there's hardly been an outcry from investors for these rules to be introduced.

That notwithstanding, Peters will still earn favour with some voters by beating the drum on CEO salaries.

But in any coalition he forms, the NZ First leader would do more good working to lift the wages of those at the bottom than attacking the pay at the top.