Dish Network cuts CEO's pay 92.5%

Overall executive compensation is down 1%, but the DISH move is either refreshing or disturbing depending on your perspective

By InvestorPlace Apr 1, 2010 11:13AM

DISH network ceo payA Wall Street Journal analysis released today shows that executive compensation at top companies was down almost 1% in 2009. That’s after a 3.4% drop for CEO pay in 2008 as the recession took its toll and political outcry made big bonuses unpopular.

 

It’s natural to see companies cutting back in leaner times -- even a bit refreshing to see that those on the top of the heap are sharing the pain of the little guys who have had salary freezes or furlough days. But what does it say about a company when it slashes CEO pay by over 90% -- even as share prices have doubled in the last year?

 

That’s exactly what happened at Dish Network (DISH), where founder and CEO Charles Ergen suffered the harshest drop in pay across the entire WSJ survey -- a drop of 92.5% to $623,100 a year in total compensation.

While that figure is still 20 times the average salary of an adult American, it’s at the extreme bottom of the pay scale for the high-stress job of running a publicly traded company with a $9 billion market size and almost $13 billion in annual revenue. And it’s not like Ergen has been asleep at the wheel -- DISH stock is up about 125% since the March 9, 2009, lows and in its latest quarter topped Wall Street earnings per share estimates by 25%.

So why would DISH pay its CEO so little? Well, perhaps it’s because as the founder of Dish Network that Ergen has more of an interest in the success of the company than padding his own bank account. Cable providers like Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner (TWX) are virtual monopolies, and satellite rival DirecTV (DTV) boasts 30% more customers – 18 million by the latest estimate to 14 million at DISH. Putting the company’s money to work toppling these rivals may be more important to Ergen than anything else.

 

Another idea would be that the CEO is simply playing a public relations game akin to Citigroup (C) CEO Vikram Pandit took a salary of $1 without any bonuses after a massive government bailout, or when General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner made a similar $1 pay pledge. While 600 large isn’t peanuts, it’s certainly not the $52 million pulled in by Occidental Petroleum (OXY) CEO Ray R. Irani.

The final theory -- and one that’s more disturbing for DISH shareholders -- is that the company either doesn’t have the cash or doesn’t have the inclination to pay its leadership top dollar. That could signal trouble down the road if its true, because Dish Network is going to need to woo the best and brightest executives to fend off cable rivals and satellite leader DTV. Settling for second-tier talent is no way to become the best in the business.


Pay is all relative. Obviously a cashier should make less than a CEO because of the difference in experience, education and skills for the job. And in the world of CEO pay where top execs routinely pull in seven and eight figures, $623,100 seems like chump change.

 

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3Comments
Jan 14, 2011 2:27AM
avatar
In a world where CEOs are overpaid and the worker does not see a share in the profits, I believe Dish Network is a light. Personally I feel it is wrong for a CEO to be making over 10 million a year wehen his employees need government assistance, nearly criminal. It's time for America to face the truth, we are overpaying this position.

and WDWspender, Dish has 12 call centers and all of them are in the United States. Plus, you'd be surprised how often the receiver isn't on

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