In 1981 I bought 100 shares of Exxon stock. It has been the best long-term investment of my life.
The company itself (now known as ExxonMobil) is one of the largest and most influential companies in the world. Because I own the stock and receive its annual report, I was able to gather the following information about the compensation of its chief executive officer.
Let me preface this report with a brief statement. American companies devote many pages in their annual reports explaining the rationale for and the details about the compensation of their executives.
The rationale is that a CEO should be rewarded for the successful leadership he (or occasionally she) provides the company.
In addition, the executive’s interests should be aligned with the company’s interests, which means he should receive a large portion of income based on the successful performance of the company’s stock.
In order to enhance this alignment of interests, a significant portion of the executive’s compensation involves the granting of shares of company stock or options to purchase shares of the stock at a fixed price.
In essence, the owners (the shareholders) of the company are giving away a portion of the company each year to the executives so that the executives will do the job for which they are being paid better than they would if they were just paid like the rest of the company’s employees.
Many companies give their executives the equivalent of 2 or 3 percent of the company every five years. In 150 years, they will have virtually given away the entire company. (In actuality, the shareholders’ ownership is merely being diluted.)
Decisions about executive compensation are made by a board of directors elected by the shareholders (though nominated by the currently entrenched board of directors, which generally is composed of CEOs of other companies).
Members of ExxonMobil’s board of directors are paid $240,000 to $614,000 a year to oversee the company’s performance. To put this in perspective, directors are being paid $1,000 to $2,361 per workday if they worked 260 days per year.
Some of this director compensation also is designed to align the interests of the directors with the company by giving them stock grants and stock options.
It seems that the money they are paid is not a sufficient enough motivation for the day or two per month they spend in oversight of the company’s and shareholders’ interests.
If they actually devote two days a month to their duties as directors, their daily compensation rises to $10,000 to $25,583 per day.
Now let’s look at the annual compensation of ExxonMobil’s CEO for 2009:
· Salary: $2.057 million ($7,911 per workday, or the equivalent of the annual compensation of 136 minimum-wage workers)
· Bonus: $2.4 million ($9,230 per workday, or the equivalent of the annual compensation of 159 minimum-wage workers)
· Stock awards: $16,963,875 ($65,245 per workday, or the equivalent of the annual compensation of 1,125 minimum-wage workers)
· Change in pension value: $5,466,517 ($21,025 per workday, or the equivalent of the annual compensation of 362 minimum-wage workers)
The CEO also received other benefits (life insurance, savings plan, personal security, personal aircraft usage, financial planning help and so on) worth $280,925 ($1,080 per workday, or the equivalent of the annual compensation of 16 minimum-wage workers).
By the way, the CEO also owned 1,325,613 shares of company stock (that $88 million current valuation alone would seem to me to be sufficient alignment with the interests of the company).
My question is not merely, “Why are executives paid so much?”
My questions are:
· “Why are people who are paid so much showing so little concern for the poor?”
· “Why are they so intent on keeping the minimum wage so low?”
· “Why are they so worked up about paying taxes that support education, health care and other social services?”
· “Why are they ignoring the Lazaruses at their doorsteps?”
Michael Fink is a retired religious educator who lives in Dandridge, Tenn., and blogs at Mike’s Thinking Aloud, where this column originally appeared.