Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Impact of Money on the Ability to Lead

Rick Wagoner, newly retired CEO of General Motors, is driving away from his career with a $20 million retirement package. That's what's being reported in the MSM (see here for one of the stories.)

Wagoner had been CEO at GM since 2000 - so had nearly a decade to make an imprint on the company. Prior to that, he had been COO and CFO for the company - meaning he spent at least 15 years in the C-suite at GM.

His company exists today thanks only to the largess of the American taxpayer.

And thanks to the brilliant retirement package he negotiated sometime ago, Wagoner will never again have to work a day in his life – nor will his children. His time at GM was spent building up massive generational wealth that the autoworkers who worked for him cannot even fathom.

(It's funny when Detroit talks about the expense of building cars, they never factor the enormous compensation package of the CEO into the equation.)

The employees built cars - the CEO built wealth - for himself. The auto workers could be out of a job soon, but without an income cushion to sustain them. The leader who led the company to failure walks away with astronomical sums of money.

American leadership is in crisis - too many leaders in too many sectors are looking to the government for significant financial support these days. And yet, through it all, American leaders are paid handsomely, regardless of performance.

And their pay scale has expanded dramatically in the last two decades. According to the book Pay without Performance, by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, the increase in executive compensation has been unprecedented:


"Between 1992 and 2000, the average real (inflation-adjusted) pay of chief executive officers (CEOs) of S&P firms more than quadrupled, climbing from $3.5 million to $14.7 million. Increases in option-based compensation accounted for the lion’s share of the gains, with the value of stock options granted to CEOs jumping ninefold during this period. The growth of executive compensation far outstripped that of compensation for other employees. In 1991, the average large-company CEO received approximately 140 times the pay of the average worker; in 2003, the ratio was about 500:1."

John Thain is a corporate leader who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in his career in finance.

Hundreds of millions of dollars.

$300 million in stock from his time at Goldman Sachs.

$4 million in annual salary during his stint as the president of the New York Stock Exchange.

When he came aboard Merrill Lynch in 2007 as its CEO, he received a $15 million signing bonus.

As the last CEO of Merrill Lynch before it was folded into the Bank of America empire, he presided over a company that ended 2008 with $15 billion in losses for the fourth quarter.

Thain's company lost $15 billion dollars in just the fourth quarter.

Apparently, this was news to the multi-million dollar man. Because despite such a poor performance for the year, Thain lobbied hard for a nearly $40 million bonus for himself. He would have settled for $10 mil, but then was forced, thanks to the outraged rabble rousers known as the American public, to forgo his 2008 bonus altogether.

Why do our CEOs deserve such huge sums of money? When people feel their work deserves tens of millions of dollars annually as proper compensation for their efforts, we shouldn't get bankruptcy in return.

And when a company invests such astronomical sums in its leadership, it should demand nothing but the best.

With so many CEOs huddled together today in a welfare line, hoping for government handouts to ensure survival, it seems that we're far removed from getting the best that America has to offer.

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