Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

CEO Pay and Disclosure: Good Target for Reformers

Something most of the corporate scandals have in common over the past few years: those with their hands in the cookie jar already were receiving compensation that most of us would consider wildly excessive.

For a number of years, some companies have established maximum earnings for top execs as a multiple of the earnings of the company's lowest- paid employees. So if the multiple were, say, 50 times, and the lowest paid worker made $15,000, CEO pay would be capped at $750,000. If the CEO wanted higher pay, that $15,000 a year worker would get an increase as well.

But we see CEOs with compensation in the hundreds of millions. Often the crooked ones. The Wall Street Journal reported that Enron Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Lay was paid $67.4 million in the year immediately prior to the company's bankruptcy filing. That same year, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski received $125.3 million in total compensation. And you can bet that the lowest paid workers at Tyco got nowhere near 1/50th of that.

Yet these outrageous figures weren't enough to keep them from stealing? How much money does any single person really need to live on?

A very interesting solution was proposed in this report of the Center for Corporate Policy; I like it because it relies on tax law, rather than coercion, to enforce the cap:
Cap CEO pay through a maximum wage. This can be done by eliminating tax deductions for executive compensation above a certain amount -- e.g. above 25 times that of the lowest-paid employee, a standard originally proposed by management guru Peter Drucker. Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) has included this proposed standard in "The Income Equity Act of 2003" which would eliminate all tax deductions for compensation above 25 times that received by the lowest paid worker in the corporation.
Another law, proposed by Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, would initiate strict disclosure rules for CEO compensation, making the packages subject to investor scrutiny for the first time.

These are both positive steps. And long overdue.

There will be a consumer rebellion if steps are not taken to curb these excesses.


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