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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A post for your payday

The nice folks who put out Oregon Business magazine have been sending me free copies of their monthly print publication for a while now, and it's always a good read. This month they have a fine feature about how big-money college football has invaded our state. Collegiate athletics have become a greasy business just about everywhere you go, but reading the story of the local participants in that game really brings the point home.

For us, however, the highlight of the September issue is the journal's annual look at chief executive compensation at public companies headquartered in Oregon. We often ruminate about public employees' salaries on this blog, but looking at what the CEOs of these corporations rake in can rally take one's breath away.

Especially the public utility companies. These cash cows are regulated, at least to a degree, on the theory that their service is a matter of life and death, particularly to people of limited means, and their opportunities for profit-taking should be limited. That said, it's a bit eye-popping that the guy who runs the gas company -- former Goldschmidt lieutenant Gregg Kantor -- pulled in a nifty $2,418,958 in compensation last year, including a $446,000 salary, a $234,848 bonus, and a wheelbarrow full of stock and other goodies. Meanwhile, at PGE, James Piro raked in a lovely $1,433,807, including a $550,000 salary and a $370,194 bonus. But of course, they're both pikers compared to the guy running Standard Insurance ($3,723,004), or the CEO of Nike ($13,118,834). Even if he worked every waking minute, the Nike chief made around $2,250 an hour.

Are these folks worth that kind of money?

Of course not. No one is.

Comments (20)

Nike is still located in Oregon? I thought Phil Night was moving the company when Measure 66 passed.

Oh right, he wasn't actually serious.

for a tax law professor, you're more than a little bit marxist aren't you?

You should stick to the War on Christmas. That was your finest hour and why you won that medal for the Order of the Candy Cane.

The CEO of Nike is still outside the top 25 paid NBA players....

It seems to me there's a big difference between the private company competing on the open market and monopolies like NW Nat and PGE.

Yeah, Ben, the monopolies dominate the PBA, OBC, AOI, and just about every other "business" organization in the state.

It's easy to be sanguine about Oregon's business environment when all your costs of doing business are passed on to your captive customers. And its easy to "compete" when competition means answering the PUC's softball questions during rate increase hearings.

I personally don't think they're worth it; if occupations were paid relative to the actual value they contribute to society as a whole, teachers would be billionaires.

But we have chosen to live in a market economy run by fallible human beings, and although our libertarian friends like to claim otherwise, the market is full of distortions, perverse incentives, and rent-seeking. One such distortion is captive boards approving whatever outrageous salary the compensation consultants (who are paid by and answer to the CEO and board) claim is the standard among peer companies.

I don't begrudge Phil Knight or Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or other founders of great companies their millions and billions; they seized opportunities, took on the risks, and built from scratch companies that have generated jobs and wealth for investors. While acknowledging that subsequent, caretaking CEOs do have a lot of responsibilities and need a potent blend of charisma, guts, and organizational acumen to succeed, paying them the same princely sums as the founders for essentially moving boxes around on org charts and massaging the numbers to please Wall Street is dubious at best, in my opinion.

Michael Eisner once said that he wasn't paid big bucks for his brilliance. He was paid big bucks for not making mistakes.

As I recall the most recent economic hay day of the USA was the 50's and 60's when the "haves" did not make 2000 times more than their employees. When the workers feel fairly compensated and have enough money to live well generally revolutions are kept a bay.
With the Koch brothers, and other right wing billionaires financing the activities of the Tea Party and whipping up the ignorant masses to do their bidding, the rest of us may suffer more than we can imagine in the future.
NO one individual is worth $2,250 or more an hour!

I may disagree, slightly with PortNative:

For an hour, some people may earn/justify big money on an event basis. A neurosurgeon working in your think meat. Red Adair snuffing out an oil well fire.

It's the aggregate of total value of a figurehead that seems disconnected. And Eric said it well: "...massaging the numbers to please Wall Street...." The modern CEO does not draw income from the revenue stream and profits, but from an ability to play in the casino at the tip of Manhattan. Having to "run" a company is but the cover charge to belly up to the bar.

Let me put a different spin on all this. I will freely attribute much of what I am about to write to an MBA - Finance textbook titled Finanical Management: An Introduction to Principles and Practice. And while I have read the book and been tutored on in by an MBA, I claim no expertise.

Corporate managers are really only agents of corporate owners and as such their decisions (including their salaries) should be based on meeting the needs and desires of the owners (mostly shareholders in private enterprise) and not their own needs and desires. All we have to do is look to recent events to see that this does not take place any more. Managerial decisions should be based on building long term coporate growth and not on immediate value maximization which tends to enrich managers who receive stock options as part of their pay.

There is nothing that justifies the astronomical growth in C level pay. In fact, given the deterrimental effect their actions have had on long term growth and value, all of their pay should be drastically cut. But until ownership wakes up and rights the ship, this insanity will continue.

Call this a meta-comment. I appreciate the nuance and the historical perspective and context of Eric, Old Zeb, and LucsAdvo's comments. They make their arguments without putting up "fat cat" (from the left) or "marxist" (from the right) straw men. It's hard to find any political/economic discussion without falling into either of those traps. Thank you.

You said it much better than I did, LucsAdvo!

What level of pay are you worth??? Whatever someone is willing to pay you!!!

So is someone worth $2,250 or more an hour? You are if someone is willing to pay you that much. What you do with your money after you get it is your business. How much you get paid really isn't the business of anyone but you and the IRS, unless in the public sector. But again, if I work for the town, the city, the state or the Feds, they make me an offer I decide if I'll work for that or not. You are worth what you and the employer agree that you are worth - period.

I am going to disagree native. In order to be worth $2250 an hour, you would have to add more value than that to your employer. However, if you're out playing golf, flying around in corporate planes (drinking champagne), and generally not being in your office planning, managing, etc.) what does that do to the bottom line.

And if your company has had massive lay-offs, frozen pay for the majority of employees, do you really think it's OK to take a big base pay raise and get huge bonuses? Because if you had been a better manager, none of that would have been necessary.

Just sayin'

One of the reasons public/private corporation CEO's like PGE get paid so much is because they (their companies) contribute (indirectly) to the campaigns of those who "regulate" them.

If they had to stand on their own merits they would not get nearly as much in compensation.

One of the reasons public/private corporation CEO's like PGE get paid so much is because they (their companies) contribute (indirectly) to the campaigns of those who "regulate" them.

This is the same dynamic that exists with the public employee unions. I'm opposed to limiting political free speech, but not when the line between public and private has become largely blurred through GSE's (Government-Sponsored-Entities like SAIF, OHSU or Fannie Mae).

It might make sense to start including utilities operating with government granted monopolies and public employee unions within this blurry public/private group that should not be influencing the election of the politicians who are responsible for enabling their quasi-GSE status.

LucsAdvo -
Anything, your job, your house, your car, your GI Joe collection are worth whatever the purchaser perceives the value to be. Ever seen homes that you say to yourself, ain't no way I'm paying THAT much for that home. Well, if everyone feels the way you do, the home doesn't sell, the seller either sits on it or lowers his price. But all you need is one person to agree to the price and now that overpriced home has sold and others think they should be able to sell at that price too, everything becomes over-valued until people come their senses again.

If you're doing a job (any job) for $100 an hour and someone else offers you the same job in a different company for $200 an hour, are you going to turn it down? A third company offers you $500 an hour, a fourth offers $750 an hour. Heck, you were satisfied with your $100 an hour but the employers have come up with a bidding war - you're going to turn it down? Whatever you do or don't do, how much you get paid is up to and between you and the employer. If the employer is stupid enough to offer $2250 an hour, I'm hoping you're smart enough to accept it. If you do a bad job, I hope the employer is smart enough to fire you.

Just saying.

native - gotta disagree... I am shareholder in one of the companies that Jack's post mentions... and I don't think anyone is worth what that CEO is paid... however, some C level HR person sets his salary not the bulk of shareholders/corporate owners... wonder what it would look like if shareholders, including institutional shareholders could set pay..... and review it annually....

See the systems isn't on a level playing field now is it? And honestly, in a totally rational capitalist world, managers would produce value greater than their pay.

Just sayin....

Blame the boards of directors and the shareholders for the salaries of those at the top. Accountability rests with the owners of the companies. Why blame the execs for engaging in self-interest -- we all do. If the corporations did not pay so much, the exces would either go elsewhere or make do with less. Having said that, shame on the PUC for not taking care of the public interest when looking at the expense side of PGE.

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