Publicis shareholders frown on Levy becoming CAC 40's best-paid chairman

PARIS, May 31 (Reuters) - Advertising group Publicis won narrow shareholder support on Wednesday to pay its veteran boss Maurice Levy 2.8 million euros ($3.1 mln) a year in his new role as chairman.

The remuneration will make him the highest paid non-executive chairman among French blue-chip companies.

Levy, CEO of Publicis for the past 30 years, became chairman of the world’s third-biggest advertising group on Wednesday, a day before Arthur Sadoun formally takes over as chief executive.

Levy’s pay packet is well above that of his predecessor as chairman, Elisabeth Badinter, daughter of the company’s founder, who was on a base salary of 240,000 euros.

The world’s two biggest proxy advisers, Glass Lewis and ISS, had advised their clients to vote against the proposed remuneration, saying it was excessive for a non-operational role.

French fund PhiTrust also questioned the proposed compensation in questions sent ahead of Publicis’s annual general meeting on Wednesday.

At the meeting, however, 60.7 percent of voting shareholders approved the remuneration, although that is a low score in such instances in France.

Levy will be the highest paid non-executive chairman of companies listed in France’s major CAC 40 stock index, according to Proxinvest, a French proxy firm.

Danone Chairman Franck Riboud and his counterpart at LafargeHolcim, Wolfgang Reitzle, are the next highest paid, with each receiving annual cash compensation of more than 1.5 million euros.

Publicis said on Wednesday that the package reflected Levy’s 46 years of service for the company, the heavy workload that the executive transition would require, and a non-competition clause under which Publicis would have had to pay Levy 1.8 million euros annually for three years if he had left the company.

Levy was paid 2.5 million euros in his last year as CEO.

He was one of only two chief executives in Publicis’s 90-year history, and at the age of 75 will remain “very active” in his new non-operational position, the company said.

“I am pleased (with this score),” Levy said on the sidelines of the shareholders’ meeting. “We wanted to be very transparent: if you want me at this position, it’s under these conditions.” ($1 = 0.8906 euros) (Editing by Susan Fenton)