Michael Hlinka: There must be a direct connection between CEO pay, performance
- February 5, 2009 9:04 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a daily business column from CBC radio.
By Michael Hlinka, CBC business columnist.
When it comes to CEO compensation, I definitely have a dog in the fight.
I hold shares in several of Canada’s Chartered Banks. These investments have done quite well for me over the years, paying regular and generous dividends. That makes me happy.
What makes me less happy is the recent share price performance - and by recent, I’m talking about the past 12 months. Pretty much across the board, the Big Five are down around 40 per cent from their highs over the past year. As a result, many bank CEOs are taking pay cuts: For example, CIBC’s Gerry McCaughey who was entitled to receive $13 million for 2008, will actually bring home just a shade under $4 million.
This is still a heck of a lot of money – no question about it. And I think that Mr. McCaughey should be applauded to the extent that this was his decision. He requested less money; the bank’s board of directors didn’t force the pay cut on him. That doesn’t happen very often.
And he isn’t the only one to take less than he was entitled to.
The Bank of Montreal’s Bill Downie and Royal Bank’s Gordon Nixon made similar gestures, giving back millions of dollars that they were rightfully entitled to. Like I said, that’s nice.
But as a shareholder, I have to ask the question: What were these CEOs doing to justify seven-figure salaries in the first place?
It seems to me – and this is Michael Hlinka wearing his shareholder hat here – that it’s completely justifiable paying CEOs $10 million dollars a year … or even a lot more … if their unique talents are delivering unique results. That sounds fair. But all of the chartered banks did about equally well in 2006 and 2007. Then all suffered similar declines in 2008. This tells me that there are no superstars among the bank CEOs. There is a bunch of average performers who have above average responsibilities. That still leaves a disconnect between what they have been earning and what they deserve.
I’m not about to knock anyone for getting as much as they can. That’s something close to a moral imperative in my book. However, I can – and will – criticize the boards of directors who are supposed to be representing my interests for allowing these kinds of CEO pay packages in the first place.
It seems to me that it’s not asking too much that succession planning for the next generation of CEOs starts with this understanding: In a good year you’ll make more than you ever thought possible, but in a bad year your pay will shrink.
As a shareholder, I would never expect a bank CEO to make what the average guy does, but I do want a more direct connection between pay and performance.
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