Former Guardian Media Group chief received £795,000 in severance pay

The company behind the Guardian newspaper handed £795,000 in severance pay to its former chief executive, who left after just over a year in the job following a clash with the editor of the left-leaning media group.

Financial disclosures made by Guardian Media Group on Wednesday revealed that Annette Thomas, who left in June last year, was given a “one-off” payment on top of her £630,000 annual salary. This meant she collected more than £1.5mn after about 15 months in the job.

In her role as head of the Guardian’s commercial arm, Thomas had pursued a strategy of raising more money from the newspaper’s website, which has long resisted putting articles behind a paywall and relies on a voluntary system of reader contributions.

People familiar with the dispute between Thomas and editor-in-chief Katharine Viner said last year that the two clashed over control of the group and its strategy, amid a corporate governance review launched by GMG’s ultimate owner, the Scott Trust.

Viner’s pay has risen 42 per cent this year to £509,850, following two separate reviews of her salary, according to the corporate filings.

GMG said the increase took into account “pay levels for comparable editorial roles in the external market, her experience in the role and the success of the Guardian under her leadership”.

It also noted that her pay had only been reviewed once since she took over in 2015 from Alan Rusbridger in 2015, who had spent two decades at the helm of the newspaper. Rusbridger’s salary in the year ending 2015, his last full year, was £395,000.

GMG reported a 13.4 per cent rise in revenues for the year ending April to £355.8mn, its highest level since the financial year that ended in 2008. Operating profit adjusted for depreciation and amortisation reached £11.7mn, up from £3.1mn the year before.

More than 1mn supporters made recurring contributions of at least £1 a month and the group said it received a further half-million “one-off” donations, resulting in a total of £76.1mn from online readers.

GMG is still looking for a new chief executive following Thomas’s departure, but a person close to the company said it hoped to make an appointment this autumn. Keith Underwood, the group’s chief financial and operating officer, has been doing the job in the interim.

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