DRINKS company Diageo has brushed off concerns about its executive pay packets to win strong support from shareholders at its annual meeting.
The multinational told investors yesterday that it lobbied both sides of the independence debate and plans to "fight very hard" for the Scotch industry.
"We are absolutely prepared for both outcomes," said chief executive Ivan Menezes on the referendum. "You can rest assured given the importance of Scotch whisky to the country we are going to fiercely protect this thriving industry.
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"Both sides know what's important to us here about free trade, currency stability ... and we will fight that corner for you very hard," he told investors.
He added: "We absolutely want to make sure there's no more regulation, taxation on this wonderful product and we have made this very clearly known. This is such as important part of the Scottish economy that's driven by exports."
Chairman Franz Humer said that since Diageo's distilleries cannot be taken out of Scotland, the firm will work with both the UK and Scottish governments in the aftermath of the vote.
The company, which claims to be Scotland's biggest manufacturing exporter, has 50 sites and 4,000 staff north of the Border.
Despite investor group Pirc and some shareholders voicing concerns about Diageo's remuneration plans ahead of the meeting, early proxy results showed 97 per cent of voters backed the report of the past year's pay and the policy for future years.
The FTSE 100 company paid out about eight per cent of the maximum possible bonus for its executives after the group missed targets on sales growth, pre-tax profits and cash flow after a slowdown in its sales in emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India.
Mr Menezes is set to be paid £7.7 million for the year to the end of June, including long-term share awards from his current role and for his previous job as chief operating officer.
His predecessor, Paul Walsh, has been awarded £6.4m for his final three months at the firm.
"I think it shows that the remuneration programme that we put in, short term as well as long term, works the way it should work," said Dr Humer.
Lord Davies, who chairs Diageo's remuneration committee, said the policy had been shaped around comments made by shareholders, including the introduction of a clawback clause.
Some investors questioned Diageo's ability to return to growth in emerging markets yesterday, but Mr Menezes said the strategy required patience. "Our focus is to perform better than the competition.
"This company has been through ups and downs in emerging markets for 20 to 30 years and we have to stay steady. We've seen this many many times in Latin America."
The chief executive said he expected some of the headwinds to clear in the emerging markets in the coming year.
Diageo decided to write down the value of its Shui Jing Fang baiju business in China this year to reflect a government crackdown on extravagant gifts. However, Mr Menezes told investors that underlying demand from drinkers in China remained, and that he believed the worst of the sales slump would be over this year.
The company will spend the next year consolidating its holding in Indian group United Spirits, having spent £1.8 billion to build up a majority stake in the firm.
Mr Menezes said yesterday that Diageo had already factored into the price uncertainty around the new Indian government's policies on alcohol licensing, and that the investment remained attractive.