More than 80 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say CEOs are paid too much.
A study done for the Wall Street Journal shows CEOs at major U.S. corporations saw their pay decline in 2009 for the second straight year. The median value of salaries, bonuses, long-term incentives, and grants of stock and stock options for the CEOs of 200 major companies declined 0.9 percent to $6.95 million, after falling 3.4 percent in 2008, the newspaper reported.
The analysis found companies run by the best-paid CEOs generally deliver stronger shareholder returns, though the study "also uncovered highly paid CEOs producing subpar returns and bargain-priced executives achieving exceptional ones."
While 82 percent of Snap Poll respondents said CEOs of public companies are paid too much, 17 percent said CEOs’ compensation is just about right. One percent said compensation is too low. These results are virtually identical to those in a March 2009 Snap Poll that asked the same question.
Critics say CEOs have continued to reap big financial rewards at a time of widespread pay freezes or layoffs of employees and that their compensation often is poorly aligned with performance.
Roughly 680 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted March 29 and 30.
In general, how would you describe the compensation paid to CEOs of publicly held corporations in this country?
Too high: 82%
About right: 17%
Too low: 1%
In your view, do most public companies do a good job of linking CEO pay to performance?
Here are some comments from readers:
These are public companies, which means they are owned publicly but not by all of the public, only the shareholders. It is the opinion of the shareholders on the issue of CEO pay that should be the real question, and they have the opportunity to voice it through their shareholder voting rights. This is not something that should be dictated by public opinion. The numbers seem extraordinary to those of us who are not in that area, but the stress and sacrifice these people take along with the risk responsibility needs to be compensated or the talented leaders would not sign up for such a job. Without these talented leaders, the companies they lead would not have the success they do. Without these talented leaders, the companies they lead would not have the success they do. Now, saying that many will point to the failed banking industry and automakers as examples of the disconnect between pay and performance but with any general statement there are exceptions and to create rules that create across the board limits, we would not have CEOs who truly lead companies to success such as those at Xerox, Paychex, Apple, Microsoft and many others key to local and national economic contributions.
The only opinions that matter are those of the respective shareholders. Otherwise, it’s none of anyone else’s business, is it?
You’re kidding, right?
—Jim Bertolone, president, Rochester AFL-CIO
I have used these polls to slam the government. I have also slammed the unions. Let me state that if CEOs of big business had ever run anything with any brains or moral character, there would be no need for unions or misguided government intervention. This city was built by people of vision like George Eastman and Joe Wilson. It is held together only by all the small businesses and their employees (unionized or not).
—Bill Lanigan, Chamberlin Rubber
I think your question is flawed by not qualifying the company, its performance or financials. For instance, I’d say Steve Jobs is paid fairly, given that he founded Apple and his vision is crucial for its success. A CEO of a company that has declared bankruptcy partly due to poor leadership is in a very different situation.
—Chris Muller, Paetec
Heads of financial corporations reaped huge bonuses even as they used taxpayer funds to keep from failing. CEOs of publicly traded companies averaged $9.53 million in salary in 2009. CEOs made 319 times what the average worker did in 2008.
Although I think that many CEOs are compensated too highly, you could say the same about athletes, movie stars, singers, authors, etc. It is important for the market to make the adjustment and not the government. Shareholders need to get more involved and demand change. The government deciding who gets paid what sounds a lot like socialism to me.
CEOs should think about what they are paid in comparison with other hard-working employees who are paid much less. They should also think about whether they are slurping up resources that could employ hundreds of others.
The compensation is accurate, but the balance of guaranteed versus bonus eligibility based on performance is way off. Similar to professional athletes, there should be fewer golden parachutes and more pay for performance. Unfortunately, unless multiple organizations use this model, it will be difficult to remain competitive.
—Greg Weishaar, Superior Group
I think there are a couple of ways to look at the issue. If the company has made a real change for the better and has experienced the quality of true leadership that Anne Mulcahy gave to Xerox, followed closely by Ursula Burns, then I say yes, they deserve what the board approves. (And the board of any company should always have approval rights for CEO compensation.) If, on the other hand, you have a person like Antonio Perez of Kodak who has apparently been asleep for most of his stay at Kodak, then I say, No! One has to be able to match performance to pay. One doesn’t deserve millions of dollars when the company’s stock tanks (Kodak).
Worker wages have generally stagnated over the last 40-plus years, small business have seen their ability to make a profit eroded by not being able to purchase materials at a wholesale level, and being taxed at the same rate as companies 50 to 100 times their size, at the same time tax policy has been shifted lowering the amount that the richest have to pay from 91 percent to the present levels of 32 percent this has created an income shift to the CEOs. Without the tax policies to help keep them in check, the companies, CEOs have raided the register and stole the cash. With unions going from over 28 percent of the workplace 40 years ago to less than 8 percent and shareholders rights to question their boards limited there are no evident checks to how much the CEO can be paid. Add to the fact that most CEOs serve on multiple boards, and the government has been turned into a shadow of itself it is no wonder that CEOs are paid so much with so little accountability. It’s a little ironic in a country founded on and so proud of its democratic ideals of equality and fraternity, would allow itself to be subjected by an elite rich class.
—Joe Wierzbowski, Plymouth Photo Studio
The compensation packages for the CEOs of publicly held should be tied very closely to the company’s performance over a period of time greater than one year (three to five years would be better). There should be a mechanism for more direct shareholder input into CEO salaries. It’s interesting that the "Pay Czar" is called the "Pay Czar." In Russia, the Bolsheviks/Communists/Socialists eventually murdered the Czar and his family. Now we have the Socialists resurrecting the czar and czarist powers. Now it is up to the Conservatives to dethrone him. What goes around comes around.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
All CEOs are paid too much, as well as those who report directly to them. The American pay system for these management positions in public and private corporations is severely out of whack. We see countless times how these positions are overpaid and not punished for their failures. They are allowed to sign ridiculous contracts that excessively reward them, and then the companies are locked into keeping them or else they have to pay millions to get rid of them. They are as bad as sports figures, and that is not something to be proud about. The compensation methods for good and bad performance are a joke. Nothing happens and they are still overpaid. You have to remember their success is built on the backs of the people beneath them. EK could reduce their CEO’s salary by $1,000,000 and use that money to hire 100 engineers, fully burdened, to do something good for the company, but this is beyond them. The people who are responsible for letting this happen are the members of the boards of directors. Another group that is worse than a fraternity for sticking together and not forcing change. We need to learn from the Japanese who have a more reasonable ratio for compensation between the head of the company and the workers. Our boards are scared that they cannot find qualified candidates if they don’t offer huge packages. Well, perhaps if they all got real then we could get these packages reduced. Bring up some new lower paid talent and give them a try. All of this dis-incents the workers who do not get a raise after working hard and watches the upper echelon get raises for performance not worth it. I believe it’s all messed up and no one has the gumption to change it. That’s why there is so much waste and failing companies everywhere.
There is an old saying that “politicians think of the next election; statesmen think of the next generation” and that holds true for too many CEOs who focus on the next quarter rather than the long-term best interests of their company, their employees and their locality.
—Ed Jackson, retired
This is like a professional football player who makes several millions of dollars in some cases for sitting on the bench for many games of the season. Why do we not conduct a poll regarding the salaries and earnings of professional sports players and actors in the film industry? I think that in those two areas we could observe more money spent than looking at the pay scenario of corporate America. Yet, no one seems to care about these areas.
The rise in CXO pay, like pro athlete pay and actor pay, is correlated with transparency. The more industry headhunters and agents know about highly paid benchmarks, the better their bargaining position, resulting in a higher mean pay for all in that category. So clearly, the CEOs, actors and athletes are in a good bargaining position. So who decides what is too high or too low? Some people think it’s the government’s job to "lower pay" in the private sector. Already 47 percent of U.S. households pay no tax and many clamor for more taxes on the "rich" and less corporate pay for CEOs. It’s a step toward a nightmare if politicians decide to regulate private-sector compensation. I would much prefer to live in a culture where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and looks up to the businesspeople that create jobs and thrive in a free market. It appears our culture instead is on a slippery slope that looks up to politicians that can reapportion wealth.
—Larry Simpson, Blue Springs Energy
It isn’t all of them, but there are too many cases of CEOs being paid in the millions while the entry-level staff receives low to moderate five-figure salaries and long waits between adjustments. I’d rather see greater use of senior officer stock options, management bonuses paid in stock, rather than permanent salary adjustments.
—Ed O’Connell, retired
Public company CEOs are paid on performance. The issue is the definition of performance. I hear a lot of talk about shareholder value. This is interpreted as shareholder value at that moment, not at any future point. All of the decisions are made for short-term gains. Along time ago they tied pay and bonuses into return on net assets. This is a measure of how a company is running. Their compensation is too heavily tied to this one indicator. Who knew you could sell all of the equipment, knock down the building and lay off all of the people that make a product and get a bonus, yet your company has no future opportunity for profits.
—Rick Wilson, Empire Precision Plastics
This is a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t” question! This is STILL a "free enterprise system," and "pay for performance" ought to rule, so I am not too quick to be critical of CEO pay. I am critical however of the great disparity between the upper echelon and "those who make it happen.” There is no way anybody should be paid multimillions in salary!
The CEO is an employee of the company, just like the lowly janitors and the other employees. Their actual contributions to the success of their companies are highly overrated. The CEO and the management are there, like the other employees, to work to make their company strive. Give the same raises (percentages) across the company. Lay off those that don’t perform, also across the company.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
CEOs are not only responsible to shareholders, but, on a daily basis, to their employees, whose livelihoods depend on good decisions. When management fails, workers are often the first to feel the pain through layoffs, and wage and pension reductions. Our poll question last week elicited many responses from business leaders who acknowledged that their errors led to employee pain. However, they used that admission: that their employees paid the cost of their mistakes, to justify cutting wages of public employees to compensate for state budgetary decisions. The people who have the power to make decisions must share in the benefits and the punishment that comes with that great responsibility.
The analysis is ludicrous when you consider what the public will pay for a sports ticket so an athlete can be overpaid for a leisure activity that the public finds entertaining for a few hours. Even more ridiculous is what the public will pay to hear someone sing a song. But let’s take issue with the CEO responsible for the safety of the company service or product to the public and the profitability to the shareholders that ironically helps hold up the American economy so we can buy more tickets and MP3s. The public just dislikes "the man" (unless it’s Donald Trump on a TV show they’re parked in front of rather than working those same hours the CEO is). If anything should be changed there should be more accountability of the board of directors to the shareholders. How many proxy statements and annual votes just vote with the board of directors’ recommendations? There’s no doubt pay should match performance and be controlled by the board and shareholders, but if you are jealous of CEO compensation for a minute, I would suggest earning the same credentials and go fill those shoes for a while before you decide.
—Douglas R. Strang Jr.
These responses both come with caveats. First, compensation is probably too high, but only because most CEOs put immediate shareholder value (read: their own interests with stock value) ahead of long-term success and planning within the marketplace. Second, in regard to linking pay to performance, the same applies—short-term performance should not be the benchmark. "Turnaround experts" may squeeze value out of a company for current shareholders while not providing any long term investment. There is too much self-interest in performance (this includes board of directors who also often have significant interest in seeing short term gains over long term success).
In terms of overall executive compensation, I think it is important to emphasize long-term performance. Therefore, more emphasis should be on deferred compensation and incentive stock options. Based on the nature of particular businesses, there should be some relationship, and perhaps limitation, to the ratio of the highest and lowest paid employees, excluding the value of stock options.
—Nathan J. Robfogel
This issue is all being driven out of Washington, D.C. —the prime example of not linking pay to performance. Publicly traded companies have boards of directors who determine compensation. If the owners of the company (shareholders) aren’t comfortable with CEO pay, they can voice their concern to the board of directors. That is the difference between the public and private sectors.
—Dave Iadanza, Farmington
Executive compensation should be indexed to general employee compensation, with bonus and retirement compensation for execs consistent with bonus and retirement compensation for employees. George Eastman understood this, Ursula Burns does not.
—Duane Piede, North Coast Energy Associates
Holy biased question, Batman! Your opening salvo here suggests that CEO pay is in fact "high," but is slowly (.9%) correcting for that problem. Then claims shareholders are getting a better return, but fails to link the critics (as you call them) to any claims about shareholders. Then, fails to recognize the increase in CEO/Exec pay during the past 30 years vs. the "average employee," which is one of the main criticisms out there. I realize you are a business-oriented publication, with a large clientele of execs who do not wish to be offended by the question, but did you need to lead them too blatantly when posing this question? Are you afraid a fair question would upset too many readers? Although I frequently disagree with your editorial commentary, I’m disappointed with this one. Your paper normally holds a better standard than this.
—Aron Reina, lead field organizer, Rochester and Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
When you compare CEO salaries to professional athletes, it puts it in a different perspective. That said, it should definitely be pay for performance. If the company is successful, the senior management team should be duly rewarded. Likewise, poor performance should result in pay cuts or dismissal.
—Arnie Boldt, managing partner, Arnold-Smith Associates
The problem started when companies were required to disclose executive compensation. As a result top managers view their compensation as a mark of distinction, not a necessity to survive. It feeds their egos. Most top managers have very strong egos, which likely contribute to their high achievement levels.
CEO pay is market-based and it needs to stay that way. Outside interference by the government or anyone else does not provide for market based compensation. Duly elected board of directors who are on the compensation committee are the only people qualified to determine what CEOs should be paid on behalf of the shareholders who elected them.
—Mike Kaser, Penfield
Compensation and bonuses should be linked to the company’s performance. Also compensation adjustments should be linked long term (e.g.; five to 10 years) not guaranteed as many currently are, whether or not company performs well.
Public company management and board do not respond to shareholder interests. There is a very high conflict of interest between management, compensation committees and boards. The shareholder ends up with the short end.
—Sergio Ruffolo, JR Language Translations Inc.
Many CEOs and upper management are paid too much. It’s ridiculous to think a CEO should make a 100 times what a good engineer at a tech company gets paid. That being said, I believe a company can do whatever it wishes to do to compensate its employees and live or die with the consequences. It should be up to the shareholders to show their displeasure with the compensation. The board of directors will never do anything because they are part of the same club. But if you are stockholders and don’t like it you have options, you can sell the stock, you can band together with other stockholders and demand changes, or work hard to be the CEO yourself. But it should never be up to the government. Who is watching the millionaire senators and congressman who enter the office as poor elected officials and end up multimillionaires (Charlie Rangel, Chuck Schumer) while they sit and laugh at us knowing they are untouchable? Who is regulating their wealth growth? Just like the stockholders in the corporation it is up to us stockholders in the state to make that change. But it does no good just to sit and whine about it. The whining and complaining is due to jealousy and laziness. If you don’t like it, do something about it, even if it’s just voting. For now that is still allowed.
Even though I think compensation is too high, I cannot fault the negotiating skills of the CEO. Weak board members and inactive stockholders are more to blame. (I don’t know why Kodak kept Perez as the community watches Kodak being driven into the ground.) Fair compensation for top executives in public companies should always be tied to financial performance and shareholder value. If top CEOs don’t want to be scrutinized by the market, they should be working for private companies. All shareholders should be demanding more of corporate boards and their decisions related to C-level positions.
Great CEOs have value, as do great major league sports stars. Look what the major leagues pay their stars! I think it is totally up to the owners (or the board of directors) of a for-profit company to decide what they want to pay the folks running their company. If they like the job being done and the results being delivered then they can give them the moon if they want to. You get what you pay for. Keep in mind that they can also fire the folks if they are not happy with the results. That option does not exist for highly paid under-performing tenured teachers, professors, civil servants and other union or otherwise protected "professionals" who seem to complain the most about CEO pay.
—George Thomas, Ogden
I guess I’m missing the point. One group of people is offering another group of people X compensation package in turn for their services. If the package being offered is ill-conceived, then the market allows for someone with a better plan, or who is better utilizing their resources to gain an advantage in the market (the inference appears to be that the resources that are being dedicated to the CEO could be more effectively uses in other parts of the company. This would in turn uncover the inefficiency that existed from the “over” compensation, and the market price for CEO would fall back into place. The question is: Are CEO’s compensation packages as efficient as they should be. My guess is that they are.
—Devn Michaels, Chili
Companies, private or public alike, have the right to decide what they do with the money they generate, as long as: 1. It is legal. 2. Public funding was not used only their shareholders can direct the distribution of their funds. If the compensation they provide to executives is too high—is should be reflected in the company’s profitability, which should translate to lower stock price and eventually termination of the CEO services. Another recourse shareholders have is a lawsuit against the corporation or its compensation committee. The "public" should not get a vote on the matter, the same way they do not get a vote regarding compensation of private company CEOs (who also have many shareholders).
—Rami Katz, High Tech Rochester
The best example of the disconnect between executive compensation and performance is Xerox. Both Ann Mulcahy and now Ursula Burns receive substantial rewards for what appears to be not growing the business and not increasing shareholder returns. The board sets up criteria that fosters this poor behavior and the major shareholders "rubber stamp" their actions.
Of course the recent financial meltdown may skew the perception of “greedy” CEOs, who take public monies to save their organizations, and continue to take home exceptionally high salaries, bonuses and other perks. That said overall executive compensation is excessive. CEOs rarely suffer dire consequences when the decisions they and their direct reports make cause failures or losses. Shareholders, middle management and employees suffer the consequences instead. The world of CEO’s and the boards they serve are a closed society, much like pedophile priests, they move from company to company without ever paying a price for their misdeeds, protected by their peers and friends. Compensation committees and boards are equally culpable for seeking short term gain at the expense of the company’s future stability and earnings and pandering to the CEO’s. Executive compensation must be strongly tied to long term success, and stable results for all stakeholders; customers, employees and shareholders. What’s needed is complete transparency and accountability, not perks, penthouses, planes and parachutes.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
Think about a comparable position—General, United States Marine Corps, Army, etc. —Life or death, millions of dollars of equipment, material, logistics and so on under their control. They certainly don’t make millions and they do a great job. On the contrary, bank/auto/other execs make millions and drive their own companies out of business and still get multimillion dollar bonuses. Sure there are great execs, but bring the pay down, share the wealth with the employees. Maybe then we can get back to families that don’t need both spouses working three jobs just to break even.
Boy, what a tough question. I read about a $35 million CEO with no dividends and modest growth and modest share increases, and it doesn’t compute with me. For some, I guess you’re worth what they pay you for. I can’t seem to find any rhyme or reason to how it works if at all.
—Daniel Mossien, architect
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