Friday, January 25, 2008

"Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free"

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits sung those words about rock stars but American CEO's live it -- at least the part about money. Let's take a look . . .

Chuck Prince almost destroyed the largest bank in the world - Citigroup - and was awarded $24 million and change on his way out the door. Stan O'Neal was even worse. Merrill Lynch gave him a goodbye package worth $161 million. Maybe the worst in recent times was Bob Nardelli formerly with Home Depot. He was paid $245 million for five whole years of service in which shareholders saw no gain whatsoever.

And, it is worth noting that I am not anti-CEO. I count several as friends. Indeed, I would have no problem with Chuck and Stan or Bob for getting rock star money if they had actually delivered for their shareholders or employees.

But they didn't. They were goofs who looked good, spoke well, kissed enough butt to get to attain positions way beyond their abilities, and couldn't manage their way out of their own driveways -- as in "driveways" plural since all had several homes around the world each assumedly with at least one driveway.

And, I am dumbfounded by those who complain that employees have no right to bitch about their CEO's compensation, or even worse, that shareholders should be silent.

Not a chance, bud.

If I worked for Citigroup, or was a shareholder, I would be raising hell.

Citigroup posted a record loss last week and in the same breath gave new Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit $26.7 million in stock and he hasn't been there long enough to even find his office without a map.

So, what does that have to do with employees? Last week Citi announced it was putting said 4,200 employees on the street. Why? Because thanks to Chuck and his buddies Citi had to take a writedown of $18.1 billion on subprime mortgages. What have Citigroup's shareholders netted from all the compensation orgies? Citigroup shares closed at $24.40 the day the most recent bonuses were awarded, less than half the $54.77 closing price on bonus day last year, forcing Citigroup to quadruple the number of shares awarded to executives whose stock bonuses it wanted to double for reasons unknown to the rational.

While employees are sent home to tell their spouses and children they no longer have work, Sallie Krawcheck, head of Citigroup's wealth-management division, pocketed $8.43 million in stock, a 79 percent increase over the prior year. Vice Chairman Stephen Volk got $8.29 million in stock, an 81 percent jump. Vice Chairman Lewis Kaden got $4 million, a 22 percent increase. Ajay Banga, head of the bank's international- consumer division, was awarded $6.01 million in stock, up 93 percent. Steven Freiberg, who oversees the U.S. consumer division, received $4.36 million in stock, a 40 percent increase, all this according to Bloomberg.

And, let's not forget the money man himself, Citi's Chief Financial Officer Gary Crittenden, who joined Citigroup last year and netted a $9.21 million stock bonus, while Michael Klein, who oversees investment banking, got a $12.8 million stock bonus.

Here's a thought -- don't pay those who haven't performed. Instead, fire them. Tell them to put their "shit in a shoebox" and "get out." If you want to give them something, give them the shoebox. And, as for those who are just coming aboard, give them a decent salary and the promise of a big fat bonus if, and ONLY if, they perform for their employees and their shareholders.

Anything else is "money for nothing." Chicks, however, are never free, at least not for 50+ year-old execs. And that may be the only justice under the current system.