Archive for September, 2013

Do chief executives earn their keep?

September 26, 2013

I am a volunteer speaker for Water Aid. I was impressed with this charity when I learned that it does not just hand out money ‘willy nilly’, in order to help poor societies get fresh water and better sanitation, it negotiates with governments and invests in local people and their companies do the work for themselves. They are then encouraged to take ownership of the equipment. Educating the people in how to behave responsibly to avoid illness is also part of their programme.

However, I couldn’t help agreeing with the growing number of people in this country who are now asking why chief executives are paid so much money – more money that we are ever likely to even hope to receive.

I was moved to approach the charity and ask how its Chief Executive earns her keep. To give them their due, instead of ignoring me – I had frequent responses to my emails and I was able to piece together the reasons for such a generous salary. (I think a lot of today’s problems are caused by the wrong people getting these top jobs.)

I re-wrote the information I was given to form this little explanation. I wonder if you agree with it. 

The Chief Executive of Water Aid, Barbara Frost, earns over £110,000 a year – as do most top executives in high-powered organizations. She earns this because she has knowledge, experience and negotiating abilities superior to the usual requirements of a director of a single company. She needs to be aware of the circumstances of a world-wide network of organizations including Australia, the USA, Japan, Sweden and Canada. 

She has personal knowledge of how organizations work – she worked in Malawi and Mozambique before she took on this position. She has been the Chief Executive of Water Aid since 2005. Her position is not for life – it is assessed on a yearly basis, as are other executives at Water Aid. She does not make decisions alone, she works with a board of trustees and together, they make decisions. The trustees have nothing to gain by being members – they are there voluntarily, they do not have a salary.

She has to travel frequently, which sounds ideal until you realize that she has little choice in the matter – she needs to go where she can make the most impact on behalf of Water Aid. She attends meetings where she can help initiate real change such as World Water Week in Stockholm. She has also presented to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. As well as monthly meetings with the Board, Barbara visits programmes in different countries to review progress and to keep abreast of the challenges they face. Back in the UK she leads a large number of planning and review sessions to ensure Water Aid is working efficiently and reaching as many communities as possible with sustainable services.

Barbara has proved herself worthy of her job. Her leadership has managed to extend Water Aid’s help from 15 to 27 of the poorest countries. She has increased Water Aid’s annual income from £26.9 million to over £60 million (little compared to her own salary). This has provided the means to reach more communities than ever with safe water, improved sanitation and better hygiene education – the core principles of Water Aid’s role as a charity. 

Rosemary Westwell

(volunteer speaker for Water Aid email: