Pay remains handsome in corporate America with Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman making $702.4 million and Oracle’s Larry Ellison pulling in almost $557 million, for example.
The problem is, a lot of well-paid CEOs are captaining sinking ships.
A new BusinessWeek report has these examples of generous chief executive compensation despite painful worker cuts and poor business performance:
- Michael Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch saw his pay climb 39% last year, even though the retailer’s stock fell 72% and it has trimmed staff.
- [ConocoPhillips] CEO James J. Mulva cut 4% of the Houston oil giant’s workforce. Two months later the company announced that Mulva had earned $29 million in 2008, on top of nearly $100 million he had made in the two prior years.
- In 2003 workers at American Airlines took pay cuts of up to 50% in an effort to save the carrier from bankruptcy…Meanwhile, Gerard J. Arpey, CEO of American Airlines’ parent company, AMR, has seen his base salary rise every year since 2005, though he won’t this year. Shankland says pilots are working, on a wage-adjusted basis, for the same amount they were in 1992 while the airline’s executives have received $330 million in stock grants and option awards since 2005. And by the end of this year, the airline will have laid off as many as 1,600 workers.
The article notes research from data tracker Equilar that on the whole compensation for the average CEO at an S&P 500 company fell last year by 7.5% — that’s nowhere near the decline for the index as a whole.
But there are a few things to consider. People have a desire to see CEOs “share the pain” with laid off employees, but that will never happen through salary cuts. This study isn’t taking into account executives’ share ownership, which in many cases did prove to be a source of pain.
It’s also not clear how the study accounts for survivorship bias. They’re looking at CEOs who held onto their jobs, but plenty of executives lost theirs in 2009, and so to even talk about their “pay cuts” is impossible.
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