MMO readers will recall that earlier this year, the industry erupted over a public relations fiasco Activision-Blizzard failed to adequately counter: In the midst of yet another round of layoffs for the company, CEO Bobby Kotick, already one of the highest-paid CEOs in the country, was poised to take advantage of a dodgy clause in his contract that could see him rake in as much as $200M more in payouts.
The backlash led to Activision’s board announcing that it would be halving Kotick’s base salary and annual bonus in the future, but not before the original reporting curiously vanished from the internet and a whole wave of new and identical counternarrative articles claiming the $200M number was bogus started cropping up in searches. (We reported on that whole weird situation at the end of the original article; it seemed to us that Activision was very invested in discrediting the $200M figure without actually going on the record to deny it. Bloomberg currently puts Kotick’s estimated 2021 bonus haul at closer to $155M.)
In any case, the movement forward this week is that Activision-Blizzard’s annual shareholders meeting was yesterday, and apparently while the company was able to vote on most agenda items, the board has extended the voting on executive pay by an extra week, contending that shareholders needed more time. Since the news was announced in an Activision-Blizzard press release, of course, the company recommends that shareholders approve the board’s proposal and reiterates its position that it’s already done enough to curtail executive pay excesses. “The Company’s Compensation Committee, after discussions with our CEO, took a significant step to reduce the originally-anticipated value of his 2021 performance-based equity award – reducing the value of its maximum payout opportunity by approximately 40%,” AB says.
But AB also uses the press release to disparage industry reporting on its C-suite compensation as “misleading” and implies that shareholders have traditionally supported the company’s executive pay, pointing to large majority votes in 2018 and 2019 but neglecting to mention 2020 when that was not the case. The shade appears to be directed at CtW Investment Group, which without a doubt has been the investor group at the forefront of agitation against corporate pay abuses in the last few years. The group, which purports to represent long-term Activision-Blizzard investors, declared a spiritual victory last year in its efforts to curb executive pay abuses when it convinced over 43% of AB shareholders to vote against AB’s “say-on-pay” policy. (It also successfully convinced a large majority of EA shareholders of the same.)
The group was back with a press release of its own last night, arguing that 86% of the votes were already in and that AB is merely trying to sway the vote. “Activision Blizzard board’s action today is desperate attempt to avoid losing the shareholder vote on executives’ pay,” CtW claims. “The Activision board should call an end to this charade.”