Persimmon CEO should have prepped for predictable pay questions

If you want an insight into how executives can breed mistrust with the media and beyond, look no further than this interview with Jeff Fairburn, chief executive of Persimmon, a large construction firm. 

Fairburn has met strong media criticism for his £75 million bonus with Alex Brummer of the Daily Mail writing it, “has brought shame on the whole housebuilding sector”.

So his decision to refuse to answer the question was always going to irritate. More than that, it makes Fairburn look weak and unprepared. His suggestion to the reporter that it was ‘unfortunate’ to bring the matter up suggests he has little understanding of how journalists and journalism works, and that he’s been poorly advised.

It was an obvious question. Five minutes of diligent preparation could have put him in a position to offer a credible response. 

Some regard questions about pay and bonuses as intrusive. As ex-journalists, we take the view that if you are a FTSE-100 chief executive, and your pay stands out from the crowd, it’s fair for reporters to ask questions – and these questions were put very mildly to him.

Senior executive pay is a matter for debate among shareholders and beyond, including staff and the public. In an age of social media, car crash interviews can be quickly and widely shared. This interview attracted more than 1.1 million views. By choosing to be evasive and dismissive, Fairburn has further damaged his and his company’s reputation. Just look what comes up when you google Persimmon.

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