Two mystery executives reap over $270 million each at China's Tencent

The company said in its annual report that its two highest-paid individuals were not among the directors or most senior executives. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Tencent Holdings doled out more than US$200 million (S$272 million) apiece to two unidentified executives last year, even as it cut founder Pony Ma's compensation for a year in which Beijing's crackdown on the private sector walloped the Internet giant's stock.

The company said in its annual report that its two highest-paid individuals were not among the directors or most senior executives. One made about HK$1.599 billion (S$278 million), while another person made about HK$1.589 billion - the equivalent of US$204 million and US$203 million respectively.

That would put the pair among the 20 most highly paid executives in the United States, a roster led by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Apple chief executive Tim Cook.

The company did not name the two executives. Tencent's most prominent talent includes Mr Allen Zhang, hailed by the industry as the founder of the ubiquitous WeChat messaging service, and gaming business chief Mark Ren.

Mr Ma, the company's CEO, took home a total of 44.1 million yuan (S$9.5 million) last year. The billionaire founder still holds more than 7 per cent of the company, giving him a net worth of about US$39 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His closest lieutenant, president Martin Lau, earned 24 per cent less, or 323 million yuan, including a 32 per cent decline in his bonus to 23 million yuan, according to the company's annual report.

Tencent is among the technology giants that came under fire from China's regulators last year, as the government led a sweeping crackdown on what it deemed monopolistic practices and services contrary to Communist Party priorities. Beijing restricted the amount of time children could play online games and imposed new restrictions on online education, both critical to Tencent's operations.

Its shares dropped 19 per cent during 2021, while rival Alibaba Group Holding tumbled 49 per cent. Tencent's stock has dropped another 16 per cent through Thursday.

For fiscal year ended in March 2021, Alibaba paid about US$46 million salaries and other cash benefits to its directors and executive officers, a 36 per cent drop from a year earlier. But, while growth is slowing for the industry, the most sought-after engineers and tech executives continue to command outsized salaries because of endemic talent shortages.

Mr Zhang, the progenitor of the messaging service that sits at the heart of Tencent's gaming and social media businesses, commands a cult-like following in China thanks to WeChat's explosive popularity.

His colleague Mr Ren is widely credited with helping establish the world's biggest game publishing empire, encompassing blockbuster names from League of Legends to Clash of Clans and with investments in studios like Supercell, Epic and Riot Games. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tencent also increased pay for its staff in general last year. Employee benefits expenses - which include wages, bonuses, share awards and medical costs - leapt 37 per cent to 95.5 billion yuan.

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