But others that held say-on-pay votes have seen even less shareholder backlash. Pay programs have won more than 90% of shareholder votes at companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Alaska Airlines and Verizon Communications Inc.
U.S. investors not only are supporting compensation plans, but they're also keeping most directors around. Only nine directors at five companies have failed to get shareholder support, according to RiskMetrics.
Three of those nine came from Pulte Homes Inc., where a majority of shareholders withheld votes for each of the homebuilder's director nominees at the company's annual meeting on May 14.
Activist investors say they hope for better outcomes next year. Say-on-pay will be more established and could even be mandated across corporate America by Congress, under a new bill proposed this month by Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
"Things take time to gain traction with investors," said Patrick McGurn, special counsel at RiskMetrics.
At the same time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday proposed making it easier for shareholders to nominate directors for ballots of public companies. Investors owning as little as 1% of the 700 largest U.S. companies would be able to put their board nominees on the annual proxy ballot sent to all company shareholders, under the new SEC proposal.
It's still surprising that more investors haven't embraced governance changes this year given the amount of attention on issues surrounding executive pay and directors.
Investors might not be any more concerned about executive pay next year, especially if stocks continue to rebound. A 33% gain in the S&P 500 since early March has already caused plenty of investors to focus on the positive. And shareholder advocates say there is still a long way to go before change comes.
"This is the training-wheel stage for say-on-pay," McGurn said.