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Key Words: U.S. corporate greed has gone too far, says Norway fund manager who voted against Apple CEO’s pay

“‘We think in particular in the U.S. the corporate greed has just gone too far.’”

That’s the head of Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund, speaking Wednesday in the ritzy Swiss ski community of Davos about how extravagant executive pay packages have gone too far.

In his comments at this week’s World Economic Forum, Nicolai Tangen, CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, singled out American companies in particular.

Asked during an interview on Bloomberg TV whether any reform is likely, he added, “very much so,” as “companies really listen.”

Scrutiny of executive pay has picked up in recent years as part of the governance piece of environmental, social and governance, or ESG, assessments of stocks and funds. Read more on ESG investing.

The attention on executive pay is part of a message to boards “to sharpen up” on ESG, Tangen told Bloomberg. The Norwegian fund is using its shareholder voting power to push for change, including last year, when it voted against compensation plans at Apple Inc.
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in a proxy ballot.

Apple CEO Tim Cook will receive a pay cut in 2023 to $49 million, the company said in an SEC filing earlier this month. In last year’s say-on-pay vote, 64% of shareholders approved Cook’s compensation, down from the 95% who approved it for Apple’s 2020 fiscal year. Cook requested the cut after those vote results.

In 2022, Cook made just under $83 million in stock awards, $12 million in incentives and $3 million in salary. He also received benefits including retirement-plan contributions, security, personal air travel and more than $46,000 for cashing out vacation days.

Broadly speaking, pay for chief executive officers rose by just over 11% from 2020 to 2021, according to a report issued late last year by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

In 2021, CEOs were paid 399 times as much as the typical worker, the highest multiple on record, EPI said. The average CEO compensation was $27.8 million in 2021.

Widen the lens, and CEO pay has risen by 1,460% since 1978. Executive compensation rose 36% faster than the stock market
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during this period, the EPI said, and “far eclipsed the 18.1% growth [in 2021 dollars] in a typical worker’s annual compensation” over that span.

Tangen is just one of several attendees who are addressing ESG issues in Davos.

To start the week, Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said an “anti-woke” pushback against Wall Streeters who see investment opportunity in fighting climate change and other ESG factors has gotten ugly and personal, creating “huge polarization” in markets and in Washington.

Related: BlackRock’s Fink says climate and ESG-investing attacks getting ugly, personal

Fink has called addressing climate change the biggest investing opportunity of his lifetime.

Attention on the topic has also gained detractors who suggest any ESG focus dilutes a “neutral” fiduciary obligation that favors returns over other considerations by fund managers and other stakeholders.

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