SkyCity’s former CEO Nigel Morrison, who resigned in April last year, topped the Business Herald’s annual CEO pay survey for 2016, published this week, thanks to a hefty golden handshake that made him New Zealand’s best-paid exec.

SkyCity’s Nigel Morrison was highest paid exec

Former SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison was the highest paid exec in New Zealand in the 2016 financial year, according to the Business Herald, thanks to a whopping golden handshake on his resignation in April 2016. (Image: International Casino Review)

Morrison out-earned fellow high-flyers like Mark Adamson, CEO of Fletcher Building ($4.72 million) and Theo Spiering, of dairy giant Fonterra ($4.66 million), to take the top spot on the list of fat cats, with a whopping $6.94 million pay packet.

On top of his $3.7 million annual salary, Morrison also picked up $2.3 million in resignation entitlements, an annual leave settlement of $96,000, and $363,000 in dividends.

Rise in CEO Pay Slows

The Business Herald reports that CEO salaries for the 2016 financial year averaged $1,732,802, a 3.34 per cent rise on the previous year, and the lowest increase since 2011 when just a 0.4 per cent increase was recorded.

The Herald’s survey takes in 49 of the biggest listed companies in New Zealand, as well as the private company Fonterra, because of its scale.

“There’s no doubt that executive pay has been increasing for many years, at a faster rate than for other groups, and our analysis suggests that that’s not really changing, particularly around the nature of incentive schemes,” John McGill, himself a CEO, of executive remuneration firm Strategic Play told the Herald.

McGill suggested the rise in executive pay for the last financial year was relatively modest due to CEO performance incentives yet to be vested.

“Great Legacy”

Morrison left SkyCity unexpectedly after eight years’ service, citing the extraordinary demands of the job and the need to “take a break.” The businessman, who in the nineties worked alongside Kerry Packer and Lloyd Williams devising Melbourne’s Crown Casino, was headhunted by SkyCity and poached in 2008 from Galaxy Entertainment, where he had served as the Macau and Hong Kong-based firm’s chief financial officer.

From 2000 to 2006, he was also CEO of the Federal Group from which operates two casinos in Tasmania.

“If you look at what Nigel Morrison achieved in the time he was there [at SkyCity], it was an extraordinary achievement,” according to Simon Monks, managing partner of Caldwell Partners, who believes Morrison earned his wedge. “He was the first gaming chief executive that SkyCity has ever had, and he’s left a great legacy.”

Morrison denied that his departure had been hastened by falling out with the board, although the timing was surprising since the company had only just begun its development of the SkyCity Auckland convention centre.

He was replaced by South African-born Graeme Stephens.