3. Compensation governance
3.1 Board of Directors composition, competence and independence
Board of Directors composition
As determined in Art. 1 of the Organizational Regulations and in Art. 1 of the Rules on Board Operations and Procedures, the Board of Directors plans the succession of its members and defines the criteria for selecting candidates so that the composition is well-balanced in terms of size, professional skills, international experience, and diversity in general. Sonova ensures that newly elected members receive appropriate introduction and orientation and that the members of the Board of Directors receive further training with respect to their responsibilities.
The current composition of the Board of Directors represents a good mix of competencies, age, and diversity. The average age is 62 years and the average length of service is 9 years. As a general rule, the Board of Directors shall not nominate for re-election a candidate for the Board of Directors who has completed his or her 70th year of age, although in justified individual cases the Board of Directors can make an exception.
Board of Directors competence
The Board of Directors competence process evaluates each member of the Board of Directors against a set of pre-defined competencies and skills. The competencies relate to specific requirements which are relevant for Sonova and are compiled in the Board of Directors competence matrix. More information on the Board of Directors’ competences can be found in the corporate governance report.
Board of Directors independence
Members of the Board of Directors are considered to be independent according to Art. 14 of the Swiss Code of Best Practice for Corporate Governance and Art. 6 lit. c of the Organizational Regulations, if they personally (or in association with related persons) have not been a member of the Management Board during the last three years, and have no or only comparatively minor business relations with the company.
Only Lukas Braunschweiler, former CEO and member of the Board of Directors since the 2018 AGM, is not considered as independent according to these rules.
Given the overall balance in Sonova’s Board of Directors in terms of professional skills and expertise, background, international experience, length of service, and general diversity, and as all other members are considered to be independent, the Board of Directors remains confident that it is well-positioned and experienced in ensuring that its members, as part of this governing body, exercise independent control and supervision.
Fees for members of the Board of Directors are structured to be consistent with the principle of independence; members therefore only receive fixed fees paid in the form of a cash retainer and non-discounted shares with a blocking period of five years and four months (Chairman of the Board of Directors) or four years and four months (all other members of the Board of Directors). The allocation of shares strengthens alignment with shareholders’ interests.
In addition, members of the Board of Directors receive committee retainers for their services on Sonova’s committees. Members of the Board of Directors do not receive performance-related compensation, severance payments, or benefits.
3.2 Nomination and Compensation Committee
As determined in the Articles of Association, the Organizational Regulations, and the NCC Charter of Sonova Holding AG, the NCC supports the Board of Directors in the fulfilment of its duties and responsibilities in the area of compensation and personnel related matters. Its tasks and responsibilities include, among others:
- Periodical review of Sonova’s compensation principles
- Periodical benchmark reviews covering compensation of the members of the Board of Directors (including the Chairman of the Board of Directors), the CEO, and the other members of the Management Board
- A yearly review of the individual compensation of the CEO and of the other members of the Management Board, including the VCC and the EEAP
- Review, amendment, and approval of the performance appraisal of the members of the Management Board (prepared by the CEO) and of the CEO (prepared by the Chairman of the Board of Directors)
- Preparation of the compensation report
- Succession planning
- Selection and nomination of candidates for the role of the CEO, for membership of the Management Board as proposed by the CEO, as well as pre-selection of suitable candidates for the Board of Directors; and
- Periodical review of the employment terms and policies.
Approval and authority levels on compensation matters:
The NCC consists exclusively of independent and non-executive members of the Board of Directors, who are elected individually and annually by the AGM. For the period under review, the NCC consisted of Robert F. Spoerry (Chairman of the Board of Directors), Stacy Enxing Seng, and Beat Hess.
The NCC meets as often as business requires but at least three times per year. In the 2019/20 financial year, it held five meetings covering, among others, the following pre-defined recurring agenda items:
Special ad-hoc items such as personnel changes at executive level are covered as and when appropriate. There has been greater interaction between the Board of Directors and the NCC, and also the Management Board, in the context of the current COVID-19 related crisis: for example, an additional NCC meeting was held in March 2020 to review the COVID-19 related compensation proposals outlined in this compensation report.
As a general rule, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, the CEO, and the Group Vice President (GVP) Corporate Human Resource Management & Communications (HRM) participate in the meetings of the NCC. However, they do not participate during the section of the meetings where their own performance and/or compensation are discussed.
There is a closed session (without participation of any executive or guest) after each NCC meeting. The Chairman of the NCC reports to the Board of Directors on its activities and recommendations after each meeting and the minutes of the meetings are available to the full Board of Directors.
The NCC may decide to consult external advisors for specific compensation matters. In the 2019/20 reporting year, Aon Hewitt was once more tasked with the PSU valuation and performance measurement under the EEAP; Algofin performed the option valuation. Support and expertise are also provided by internal compensation experts such as the GVP HRM and the VP Total Reward.
The external advisors had no other mandates during the reporting year.
3.3 Governance and shareholders’ involvement
Authority for decisions related to compensation of the members of the Board of Directors and the Management Board is governed by the Articles of Association:
The prospective maximum aggregate compensation amounts to be awarded to the Board of Directors and the Management Board are subject to a yearly binding shareholder vote at the AGM. The provisions of the Articles of Association foresee that shareholders vote prospectively: on the maximum aggregate compensation for the Board of Directors for the period until the next ordinary AGM, and for the Management Board for the following financial year. In addition, Sonova annually submits the compensation report to a consultative shareholders’ vote, so that our shareholders have an opportunity to express their opinion on the compensation of the previous financial year.
Over the past several years Sonova has engaged in ongoing dialogue with shareholders and proxy advisors and has made significant efforts to continuously improve its compensation disclosure in terms of transparency and level of detail provided about its principles and system of compensation.
Matters to be voted on at the 2020 Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting:
The maximum aggregate compensation amount for the Board of Directors comprises fixed compensation components, including a cash retainer and restricted shares as well as committee fees and travel allowance (as applicable).
The maximum aggregate compensation amount for the Management Board (including the CEO) comprises:
Fixed compensation components:
- Fixed base salary, value of benefits, employer’s contributions to Sonova’s pension plan.
Variable compensation components:
- Short-term cash incentive award (VCC): maximum possible payout under the VCC, should the achievement of all performance objectives reach the cap.
- Long-term equity incentive award (EEAP): fair value of the equity awards at grant (options and PSUs).
Due to the maximum possible VCC payout, the maximum aggregate compensation amount submitted to shareholders’ vote is very likely higher than the actual amount of total compensation for the members of the Management Board based on the performance achieved in the financial year. The total compensation amount awarded to the Management Board will be disclosed in the compensation report of the respective financial year, which will be subject to a consultative shareholders’ vote at the AGM.
We are convinced that the binding prospective votes on the maximum aggregate compensation amounts, combined with a consultative retrospective vote on the compensation report, provide Sonova’s shareholders with a far-reaching “say on pay.”
Articles of Association
The Articles of Association were revised in 2014 regarding the compensation of the members of the Board of Directors and the Management Board and approved by the shareholders at the 2014 AGM. The Articles of Association include the following provisions on compensation:
- Powers and duties (Art. 24)
- Approval of compensation by the General Shareholders’ Meeting (Art. 10 para. 5/Art. 26)
- Additional reserve amount for changes in the Management Board (Art. 27)
- General compensation principles (Art. 28)
- Maximum consideration for non-competition agreement (Art. 29 para.3)
- Prohibition on loans (Art. 31)
The Articles of Association are available here.
3.4 Process of determining compensation
Compensation structure and components
The compensation structure and components for the Board of Directors and the Management Board are reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to be aligned with Sonova’s strategy as well as with market practice.
Sonova periodically reviews the total compensation of members of the Board of Directors and of the Management Board. The benchmark reviews for the Management Board take into consideration our principles of both market and performance related compensation.
A thorough review was conducted during the course of the previous reporting year to help determine appropriate compensation for the Board of Directors and the Management Board both in terms of structure and overall levels.
For the Board of Directors, the review considered companies in the SMIM (Swiss Market Index Mid), which comprises the 30 largest mid-cap stocks in the Swiss equity market that are not included in the blue-chip SMI index. The analysis (incorporating the input of shareholders and proxy advisors) showed that, although the overall fees paid to members of the Board of Directors are in line with the market, a re-alignment in terms of the structure of board retainer and committee fees was needed, which was implemented during this reporting year and reported in the compensation report for the 2018/19 financial year.
For the Management Board, the analysis showed that the compensation structure at Sonova is more performance oriented (and less fixed) than at other companies, and that levels are generally in line with prevalent market practice. The peer group of companies considered for the review consisted of Swiss general industry companies that are comparable in terms of market capitalization, revenue, industry, number of employees, geographic reach, etc. These included Bucher Industries AG, dormakaba Holding AG, EMS-Chemie Holding AG, Geberit AG, Georg Fischer AG, Logitech International S.A., Straumann Holding AG, and Sulzer Ltd., as described in last year’s compensation report.
The actual compensation of the members of the Management Board in a financial year depends on the performance of the Group and/or respective business unit, as well as on individual performance, which is assessed through the formal annual performance review process. Financial, business unit, and individual performance objectives are approved at the beginning of the financial year and achievements against those objectives are assessed at the end of the financial year, according to Sonova’s performance appraisal process.