As many Canadians nurse New Year's Eve hangovers and wonder what economic storms lie ahead, Canada's top corporate executives can take some comfort in knowing they have already earned as much as the average worker will earn in all of 2009.
An analysis by the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concludes the country's richest corporate executives will have pocketed an average of $40,237 by 9:04 a.m. Friday morning.
"By the time your computer has finished booting up on your first day back after the New Year's holiday, the average CEO would have already banked what took the average Canadian worker an entire year's worth of work to earn," the report states.
"Many of the top 100 include Canada's big bank CEOs, who recently received billions in federal government bailout money to purchase mortgage loans."
Prepared by economist Hugh Mackenzie, the report finds the top 100 CEOs of publicly traded corporations averaged more than $10 million in pay apiece in 2007, the last full year for which figures are available.
2007 pay up 22% from 2006
The collective billion-dollar bonanza — a 22 per cent increase over the year before — set a record and followed a decade of unprecedented pay increases, the analysis finds.
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, said the gap between low-end and highest-end earners began growing in earnest in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, something Martin attributed essentially to greed.
The question for CEOs changed from how much they felt they needed to earn to how much could they could "possibly extract" from their companies, an attitude detrimental to the company and their employees.
"Rank-and-file employees will increasingly feel like, `Wow, I'm working hard to make that guy really, really rich. Do I like that?"' Martin said.
The report is based on disclosures made by companies trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The compensation includes salaries, bonuses, proceeds from stock options and other payouts.
The top earner, according to the report, was Michael Lazaridis, head of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion based in Waterloo, Ont., who pocketed more than $51 million.
Rethink compensation, academic suggests
Martin said current ways of thinking about CEO compensation are "just dead wrong."
"A lot of the CEOs have a compensation formula that still compensates them wonderfully while they're not creating value or even destroying value, laying off people and the like," Martin said.
Incentives they are offered tend to encourage unhealthy and even disastrous risk-taking as senior executives seek to maximize their own earnings, often at the expense of shareholder interests, Martin said.
Despite the market meltdown and hammering of the economy that is costing thousands of workers their jobs, Mackenzie said CEO earnings for 2008 could be as high as they ever were.
"In a rational world, you would expect a big drop in executive compensation in 2008 and again this year," Mackenzie said in an interview.
But in a rational world, he said, one wouldn't expect to see the average pay of the top 50 executives rising from 104 times the average income in 1995 to almost 400 times.
Martin said CEOs should suffer along with employees and shareholders when times are tough.
Repercussions from the economic crisis may yet force them to do so.
The report notes a backlash in the United States against huge salaries and severance packages paid to executives even as their company share prices and performance plummet.
"It's only a matter of time before this new reality takes root in Canada," the report says.