7/19/2011 1:08 PM ET|
5 big vacation-time executive perks
Sullivan received another unusual perk from shareholders. Normally, when execs get restricted stock they pay what's known as the "par value" for the stock, a bookkeeping entry of pennies, or a dollar, per share. But Sullivan gets that reimbursed, too, at $2,250 last year.
"Never, never, in my 17 or 18 years of writing about this stuff have I ever seen anyone get that amount reimbursed," commented Paul Hodgson of GovernanceMetrics.
Shareholders might have a hard time accepting special perks, given the company's recent performance. Talbots stock has fallen to around $3.10, from more than $9 at the start of 2010.
Talbots has "robust corporate governance practices" established by a board compensation committee of independent directors who design executive compensation packages that are "consistent with industry standards," responded Julie Lorigan, Talbots' senior vice president for media and investor relations.
So why all the fuss?
Let's step back for a moment and ask, are we just being petty for picking on these execs for these kinds of perks?
Not at all, say the experts.
Big institutional investors review perks all the time when considering which stocks to own. "We look at corporate governance as a risk mitigator," says Aeisha Mastagni, an investment officer at the California State Teachers' Retirement System. "Companies that have better corporate governance have lower risk and perform better."
One reason is that a lot of perquisites are simply gifts to executives, not linked to performance. In contrast, performance-based pay drives execs to work harder, which is better for shareholders.
Like excessively high pay, odd and excessive perks can also be a sign that boards are too close to managers -- and not looking out for shareholders.
"If a board is unable to tell the CEO 'no' on perks, then how can shareholders have any confidence that the board will stand up to the CEO on bigger issues?" asks Rosanna Weaver, an analyst with CtW Investment Group, which consults labor pension funds on corporate governance issues and shareholder activism.
Now, back to the topic of travel-related perks:
3. Free security
Going away usually means at least some concern about your security in new surroundings. Less so if you're a CEO. Last year, Las Vegas Sands (LVS, news) shareholders forked out $2.5 million for security expenses for CEO Sheldon Adelson and his immediate family. And Amazon.com (AMZN, news) shareholders paid $1.6 million for security for CEO Jeffrey Bezos.
The companies don't provide specifics on what these security costs cover. But in filings, Amazon says it believes that the costs are "reasonable and necessary and for the company's benefit."
Certainly, CEOs have security needs the average worker doesn't. But here's an interesting twist on the theme of keeping executives safe: Last year the biotech company Ziopharm Oncology (ZIOP, news) reimbursed its CEO, Jonathan Lewis, $23,600 for personal property stolen during travel for his job. Ziopharm declined to say what he had on a trip that was worth $23,600, other than that it was a gift "of great sentimental value" from a patient of Lewis, who is a doctor, says Ziopharm spokesman David Pitts.
"The incident occurred at an airport security checkpoint during business travel and was neither preventable by, nor the fault of, the employee," says Pitts. "The company provided reimbursement for the stolen property only after all other options were exhausted, including a police investigation and a two-year effort to seek reimbursement through personal insurance."
4. Free digs
Hotels can be expensive when traveling, especially in places like New York City. But not for Vernon Jordan, attorney and former adviser to former President Bill Clinton. When he travels to New York City for business as a director at Lazard (LAZ, news) he gets to use an apartment that cost shareholders $288,000 last year.
At Wynn Resorts, CEO Wynn lives in two Las Vegas suites that might otherwise be rented to high rollers. The company estimated that cost at $503,000 for last year. Wynn Resorts benefits by having him live on premises, says a company spokeswoman.
If no one's going to cover your hotel suite or an expensive apartment in New York, would you settle for a house?
That's what the coal company Massey Energy gave former CEO Don Blankenship last December as he retired early, following a tragic year in which 29 people were killed in a Massey mining disaster, one of the nation's worst ever.
The house was valued at $375,000, a seemingly modest amount for a richly paid former CEO. In fact, the modest value of the house makes me wonder: Why couldn't he just pay for it?
After all, Blankenship made $38.2 million over the prior three years, and he got a golden parachute of $12 million when his company changed hands early this year. In what might be the oddest perk of the year, the company returned to Blankenship a 1965 blue Chevrolet truck that he had given the company earlier.
Massey Energy is now owned by Alpha Natural Resources (ANR, news) which declined comment. But in a press release at the time of his retirement announcement, Massey Energy said Blankenship helped drive growth at the company, helping its market cap grow to $5 billion late last year from $758 million in 2000.
5. Free of tax worries
If you happen to be following the, talk of the ongoing budget battles in Washington may make you wonder: How much more in taxes will the budget mess cost me?
While CEOs often pay a lot in taxes, they've got an edge over you here, too. Shareholders often cover a portion of their tax bills.
At Noble Energy (NE, news), for example, Chairman and CEO David Williams got a "tax equalization" payment last year of $587,000 to offset higher taxes he faces because the company relocated to Switzerland. Williams, last year, got $9.2 million in total pay, the company reports.
But you don't have to move abroad to get huge tax subsidies as a CEO. Last year, CBS (CBS, news) shareholders paid $2.5 million to Leslie Moonves as a "tax neutralization payment" to offset New York state and local taxes. You'd think that Moonves could afford to pay his own taxes -- his total pay was $57.7 million last year.
Because there's usually no link to performance in these tax offsets, "paying an executive's taxes at the expense of shareholders creates anything but value for shareholders," says ISS Proxy Advisory Services. "Most executives are paid at levels where they should be able to afford to pay their own taxes." ISS surveys show that most investors agree.
At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column.
Michael Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. Click here to find Brush's most recent articles and blog posts.
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Comparing President Obama to these corporate welfare abusers is absurd. He is the President of the United States - which requires domestic and international travel - and security and protection. Its not like he is flying Air Force One to Crawford, TX every weekend.
Anyway, one of the CEOs I worked for enjoyed the corporate jet so much that we had to buy 2 more. One was for his wife to take trips to Paris. Then they laid off over 100 people - which 1 month later the COO was given a multi-million dollar bonus. Can't help but think that the Paris trips and bonuses could have easily been sacrificed so that the 100 people could keep their jobs.
mr BR...while you think the cost cutting moves of companies is some moral insult, you are ignoring the reality that if it isn't done, many ot the companies would no longer exist. I work for one and it is true whether you believe it or not. We also still have a huge public sector that has to correct or drag down tax payers.....that will also be a moral issue to you I suspect. I consider hiding one's head in the sand and waiting to crash to be a poor choice also.
Just saying...we are in a lose lose position due to our decades of excess and using the future to pay for today.
Good luck to us.
PS, those CEO things happen, but are not typical of all.
snowfo....I don't think you have a financial clue if you think congressman spend even 1 mill a year on those items. Simple math (sorry but true) would help you. If you assume one jet/ business trip a week, first class flight lodging etc it would not approach a million. Get out and see the world.
What people think amazes me.
Phud...your comment about entertainers and pro sports (my add to the list) I think is a good analogy...we drool over those overgrown children, and they make more money than all the top management of the fortune 500. Heck, Flav of Flav made 5 million a couple years back.
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