Outrageous exec payoffs–performance be damned

What makes a person into a top executive? Brains, high-profile degrees and accompanying support networks, daddy or mommy’s money, luck, sharp political skills, etc. etc. Take your pick. Whatever combnation gets a guy (or the rare female) into the top office, that exec has a ton of responsibility.

Love this high-level dictionary definition of responsibility: The social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force.

In the trenches, that might mean that a lot of people’s jobs depend on them. Your mistakes may be highly visible (unless you blame someone else or otherwise disguise them). Financial stakes are high.

Or are they? When we say the stakes are high, we usually mean the wins are big, and if you lose, the loss is big. Here are some amazing statistics on executive windfalls from companies that were doing poorly:

“Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Carly Fiorina, recently muscled out of her job over lackluster performance, walked away with an exit package worth $42 million. Boeing Co.’s Harry C. Stonecipher, pushed out over an affair with a female employee, nonetheless is eligible for retirement benefits of about $600,000 per year. Franklin D. Raines bowed out under heavy pressure in December following accounting problems at Fannie Mae. But the firm says he is now owed $114,393 per month in pension benefits. “

Well, think about the job of president of the United States. Not too many people have what it takes to get there–even fewer actually want to take on that profoundly life-altering responsibility. Ex-occupants of that job also get huge retirement benefits regardless of how things went under their watch.

Since these rewards in so many are clearly not related to performance, maybe they’re just for having the chutzpah to take the job in the first place.

Hmmm. Still wouldn’t catch me signing up.

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