Tag Archives: ethics

Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay

I continue to do my part to publicize the abusive CEO pay packages that the current crop of unethical CEO’s, and those sitting on corporate boards have supported (Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 20082007 post on CEO pay abuses). It does seem there is more anger now at the looting these corrupt CEOs have engaged in; though far too many people seem to think the corruption is some isolated few CEO’s. The widespread failure of ethical standards by an enormous number CEO’s (those taking from corporate treasuries as though it was their own personal bank account) is the problem (not a few individuals). The looters certainly have littered their “courts” with apologists for their egregious behavior. Even with the large amounts they pay such lackeys I am surprised they find such willing apologists, in such large numbers.

2007 pay
rank
Company CEO 2008 Pay 2007 Pay CEO % of 2008 Earnings total employees
1 Motorola Sanjay Jha $104,400,000 company lost $4.2 billion 64,000
2 Oracle Lawrence Ellison $84,600,000 $61,200,000 1.5% 86,600
3 Walt Disney Robert Iger $51,100,000 $27,700,000 1.2% 150,000
4 American Express Kenneth Chenault $42,800,000 $50,100,000 1.6% 66,000
5 Citigroup Vikram Pandit $38,200,000 company lost $27.7 billion 322,800
6 Hewlett-Packard Mark Hurd $34,000,000 $26,000,000 7.4% 6,200
7 Calpine Jack A. Fusco $32,700,000 327% 2,000

This executive pay data is for 2008, from the New York Times article, Pay at the Top. Earnings and employee data for 2008 from Google Finance. I would not pay any of these guys 1% of what they were paid if I owned the company, myself.

These guys and their friends have created a culture where their looting is as accepted as the clothes the emperor is not wearing. We need to wake up and stop letting these people steal the bounty created by the employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors… They want a world where they can behave like nobility – taking whatever they want from the value created by others. And lately they have succeeded in creating such a world. They leave in their wake very weakened companies and societies.
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Community Banks Ask Why They Must Pay for Wall Street Greed

Minnesota Bank Asks Why It Pays for Wall Street Greed

TCF is among more than 8,300 banks and lenders insured by the FDIC facing increased fees and a one-time “emergency” charge designed to raise $27 billion this year for the agency’s depleted coffers.

Community banks rely more on deposit funding, so they suffer a “much heavier burden” as a result of deposit insurance proportionate to size than peers such as New York-based Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., with its headquarters in San Francisco, Fine said.

Community lenders “are feeling like they are paying for the incompetence and greed of Wall Street,” Fine said this week in an interview.

FDIC assessments are set per $100 in deposits and not weighted by bank size. That’s a formula that could be modified to shift the cost burden to the largest banks “that caused this train wreck,” Fine said. TCF never “securitized anything, we never engaged in any of those unscrupulous activities,” said Cooper, 65.

I am not very surprised that politicians provide big favors to those that give them huge amounts of money (former investment banks, farming interests, private plane owners, Fortune 100 companies, owners of oceanfront mansions, private equity speculators…). I am a bit surprised how much money is being lavished on those huge donors now, with the bailouts. Especially with how lacking in even minor consequences those huge gifts to their donors are (normally if the payoffs to supports get too huge there are at least some cover provided by putting in consequences for this “need” to send taxpayer money to their contributors).

The FDIC is a great government program. But allowing huge banks to take enormous risks and then passing on the much of the costs, of a small portion of those risks (FDIC insured deposit accounts), to banks that do not act as irresponsibly as the risk takers is a bad idea. Insurance should have increasing costs based on increasingly risky behavior.
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Looting: Bankruptcy for Profit

Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit by George Akerlof, University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Paul Romer, Stanford Graduate School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). George Akerlof was awarded the 2001 Nobel prize for economics. This is the abstract to their 1994 paper:

During the 1980s, a number of unusual financial crises occurred. In Chile, for example, the financial sector collapsed, leaving the government with responsibility for extensive foreign debts. In the United States, large numbers of government-insured savings and loans became insolvent – and the government picked up the tab. In Dallas, Texas, real estate prices and construction continued to boom even after vacancies had skyrocketed, and the suffered a dramatic collapse. Also in the United States, the junk bond market, which fueled the takeover wave, had a similar boom and bust.

In this paper, we use simple theory and direct evidence to highlight a common thread that runs through these four episodes. The theory suggests that this common thread may be relevant to other cases in which countries took on excessive foreign debt, governments had to bail out insolvent financial institutions, real estate prices increased dramatically and then fell, or new financial markets experienced a boom and bust. We describe the evidence, however, only for the cases of financial crisis in Chile, the thrift crisis in the United States, Dallas real estate and thrifts, and junk bonds.

Our theoretical analysis shows that an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society’s expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations.

That is exactly what has been happening. People that are not honorable and are given huge incentives to risk the future of all the other stakeholders for immense personal gain will do so.

via: New York Times Pulls Punches On Wall Street Bubble Era Pay

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersObscene CEO PayWhy Pay Taxes or be HonestTilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 2008Excessive Executive Pay

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

I do not like the actions of many in “private equity.” I am a big fan of capitalism. I just object to those that unjustly take from the other stakeholders involved. It is not the specific facts of this case, that I see as important, but the thinking behind these types of actions. Which specific actions are to blame for this bankruptcy is not my point. I detest that financial gimmicks by “private capital” that ruin companies.

Those gimmicks that leave stakeholders that built such companies in ruin should be criticized. It is a core principle that I share with Dr. Deming, Toyota… that companies exist not to be plundered by those in positions of power but to benefit all the stakeholders (employees, owners, customers, suppliers, communities…). I don’t believe you can practice real lean manufacturing and subscribe to this take out cash and leave a venerable company behind kind of thinking.

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

Much of the blame for its demise lies with three private equity titans: Cerberus Capital Management, Sun Capital Partners, and Lubert-Adler.

When those firms bought Mervyns from Target for $1.2 billion in 2004, they promised to revive the limping West Coast retailer. Then they stripped it of real estate assets, nearly doubled its rent, and saddled it with $800 million in debt while sucking out more than $400 million in cash for themselves, according to the company. The moves left Mervyns so weak it couldn’t survive.

Mervyns’ collapse reveals dangerous flaws in the private equity playbook. It shows how investors with risky business plans, unrealistic financial assumptions, and competing agendas can deliver a death blow to companies that otherwise could have survived. And it offers a glimpse into the human suffering wrought by owners looking to turn a quick profit above all else.

This plan has been repeated over and over, for decades. People buyout a company, strip off huge amounts of cash for themselves, leave the company in extremely precarious position by piling on all sorts of debt which kills cash flow. This is even taught in business schools as how things should be done (although I think many business schools have cut back on promoting this type of behavior). The attitude of some is: “look at this silly company, they are not leveraged, go buy them take a bunch of cash out and they might actually stay in business for the long term, but what do we care about that we can get a bunch of cash now and pay ourselves millions who cares what happens to all those (employee, suppliers, customers…) that build up the company.”

In this case in addition to piling on all sorts of debt the buyout firm split off the real estate from the rest of the company and then doubled the rent charges – adding another cash flow drain on the company.

Cerberus also bought out Chrysler and now seeks billions from the government to help them out.

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersWhy Pay Taxes or be HonestConstancy of PurposeRespect for people

CEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers

Pointy haired bosses broke the code they provided on their site for embedding a Dilbert comic, so I removed the broken code.

Dogbert: “I am stepping down as CEO so I can spend more time with the money I stole from this hellhole.” Unfortunately we still have far too few people that see the obscene behavior of CEOs and their brooks brother bureaucrats as unacceptable. The behavior of many of them has been similar to that of dictators looting the coffers of their country as the country sinks into despair. The CEOs have their actions supported by a flock of board members that are also spared the condemnation their despicable behavior deserves.

I must say I am amazed at how brazenly those participating in looting companies from within are; and how it is accepted. It is a shame such unethical behavior is tolerated. It seems once companies implode their are some minor complaints about the behavior, in the specific case in question, as though it was not the accepted current practice among the many of those in positions of power (Warren Buffett being one obvious counterexample).

At some point I sure hope those looting companies and voting to support such things are seen for what they are. And I hope we don’t make excuses about how those taking what they didn’t deserve were somehow excused because they paid large sums of money to others to say such behavior was acceptable. Undermining all those that rely on a companies long term success is despicable behavior. That we accept those doing so and those board members supporting it as honorable members of society is a sad commentary on our society. I understand they feel entitled to loot when they see their neighbors buying castles around the world and helicopters and jets and… But their behavior is despicable.
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Businesses Tell the IRS They Are Not American but Executives Stay in USA

I have previously written about the ethically challenged companies that claim they are not American to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. For some reason the executives, often seem to stay in the USA though? It is sad that such behavior is tolerated.

10 Big Businesses That Have Moved Their Headquarters Abroad to Pay Less U.S. Taxes [the broken link was removed]

Halliburton: Houston-based Halliburton, which offers a broad array of oil-field technologies and services to upstream oil and gas customers worldwide, announced the opening of a corporate headquarters in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai on March 12, 2007. The company, which was once led by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, said that its relocation was part of a strategy that it announced in mid-2006 to concentrate its efforts in the Middle East in order to attract business.

Yes the same company taking billions in Pentagon no-bid contracts (Company Official Defends No-Bid Army ContractHalliburton Contract Critic Loses Her Job – Halliburton’s Fleecing Ends — Or Does It? [the broken link was removed]).

And that isn’t all – read this on how they don’t pay social security or unemployment… taxes since they are not an American company when they hire American’s to work for the US government in Iraq. Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore – “Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.”
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Samuel Adams Acts Like a Good Neighbor

Some people think business is only about making money. I agree with Dr. Deming that the purpose is much larger than that. Even if you take a view similar to mine though, it is not often companies intentionally help those that compete with them. But here is an example where Samuel Adams acts like a good neighbor:

For a couple of months now, we’ve all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it’s affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers–openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn’t make beer.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We’re offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them.

We’re not looking to make money on this so we’re selling them at our cost of $5.72 a pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling

The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don’t really need them, please don’t order them. And don’t order them just because we’re making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We’re not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.

I can see a farmer helping out his neighbors in a similar way. But I don’t see companies acting this way often. I applaud Boston Beer’s action even as my cynical nature sees this as possibly more a marketing gimmick than just solely an effort to help. Still I applaud it. Too few organizations seem to have progressed beyond thinking that business is amoral. Actual good behavior is worthy of praise compared to what else goes on so often.

Related: Obscene CEO PayOpen Source Management TermsTricking Customers With Sneaky FeesMake the World Betterphoto of Samuel Adams’ gravestone

Why Pay Taxes or be Honest

This kind of stuff makes me mad. I was taught about robber barons in school (or actually I think by my uncle but…). And what I was taught was that business used to be seen as an amoral area. But then society agreed (or rather it no longer was an accepted excuse to claim business was an amoral area) that morality applied to whatever you did, whether you were at work, or not.

But we keep getting these continuing examples that are so distressing: Enron, Worldom, Tyco, Accenture, HP [the broken link was removed]… It is so disappointing that such behavior is mainly excused (until finally the evidence presented is so damning that most stop defending the specific case in question).
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More on Obscene CEO Pay

graph of excessive CEO pay

Study site: CEO-worker pay imbalance grows includes the graph above.

Unfortunately this reverse robin hood (steal from the workers, stock holder, customers…) and give to the CEO tale continues. Hopefully someday soon we can at least turn the momentum in the right direction (stopping these incredibly excessive “pay” packages). Even then it will take quite a deal of reducing these ridiculous “pay” packages to reach some sense of decency. CNN article based on the report: CEO Paycheck: $42,000 a day by Jeanne Sahadi:
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