U.S. company directors compensated more than ever, but now risk backlash

BOSTON (Reuters) – It’s nice work if you can get it.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks while Bill Gates looks on at Columbia University in New York, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The average annual compensation for non-executive directors at S&P 500 companies rose 2 percent to $304,856 last year, topping $300,000 for the first time and 43 percent higher than it was 10 years ago, according to a new report released by executive headhunters Spencer Stuart.

But thanks largely to stock grants some earned a lot more than that.

Directors at biotechnology company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc received, on average, $1.2 million in compensation last year. That figure does not include the more than $6 million received by Regeneron’s independent chairman, company disclosures show.

And the non-executive directors of Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs Group Inc made $599,279 on average in 2018, the highest for any financial company in the S&P. That was, though, down from $604,837 in 2017. The investment bank, which had 13 board meetings last year, declined to comment beyond disclosures in its proxy statement.

S&P 500 boards met, on average, just 7.9 times, in person or via telephone, during 2018. That’s down from 9 a decade ago, according to Spencer Stuart.

The bigger payouts are being made at a sensitive time for Corporate America. A top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2020 election, Elizabeth Warren, has the boardroom in her sights as she seeks to tackle inequality in American society. As well as proposals such as a wealth

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