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A Compensation Article Worth Puking Over

I don’t eat a very big breakfast. A bowl of cereal, a piece of fruit, a cup of coffee. It’s a good thing too. Otherwise, I would have made a complete disgusting mess when I puked all over the train today while reading the business section of the Chicago Tribune. This was the title of the article on page three which stimulated the gag reflex:

“Study: CEO pay topped company tax…Uncle Sam earned less than chiefs at Boeing, 24 others”

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington Think Tank, “twenty-five of the 100 highest-paid U.S. CEOs earned more last year than their companies paid in federal income tax.” This report has maddened these 25 companies…several of them have already issued statements decrying its findings. My favorite: “GE pays what it owes.” Talk about digging yourself even deeper…what a jack ass.

What have we learned from the last decade of corporate excess? What has Sarbox and Dodd-Frank done for us? Nothing. And why? Because even now the same boys and girls hold the keys to the castle. Because we’ve pussy-footed around this instead of hitting it head on. Because we’re all scared to lose favor with those who can seemingly control our destiny. Because this problem is bigger than any of us. Because this is the worst case of the inmates running the asylum.

I don’t want to debate our nation’s tax policy, or to expand upon the dynamics of corporate responsibility. I certainly don’t want to get into a political-persuasion tug of war. I hope you don’t need some mediocre talent management blogger (that’s me) to further paint the ugly picture this already is. So I won’t. I’ll simply ask you to think…hard…about what HR’s responsibility is to right this wayward approach to compensating our executives. And to those of you who are in charge of executive compensation for your companies, I’m here to tell you that you have failed. While I can’t blame you for thinking your job is to keep the Chairman of the Board, the CEO, and the other named executives happy, I cannot admire you for allowing it to be your only job.

As an HR professional, I hope you know this is F.U.B.AR. You’ve likely said a thing or two about it. And you’ve probably received some nasty looks…maybe even a little “talking to” for having done so. Do not…under any circumstances…let that deter you. Your employees are counting on it. Your shareholders are counting on it. Your own dignity is counting on it.

Now excuse me while I get me some plop plop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is.

Image Credit: Spencer E Holtaway (via Compfight)

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  • Chris

    Very thought provoking and I am really impressed you put this together this morning…(it’d take me 2-3days to throw down like this)

  • http://twitter.com/garelaos Gareth Jones

    High Charlie – you nailed it. Its is the cancer that eats away at the fabric of business. “GE pays what it owes.”? What it owes? What it OWES??!! wtf?? No! GE pays WHAT IT GETS AWAY WITH. Pure and simple. How about GE pays what it morally should hu?! This does make me want to puke fir sure.

    One thing though, your call to action re those counting on HR to get stuck in and sort out the madness. You mention the ‘shareholders’ are counting in it. Well, theres your problem right there. First and foremost, shareholders spend long nights getting hard on’s over one number. The number. EPS – earnings per share. they dont give a flying feck about tax or morals or anything else. “GE paid hardly any tax this year? Awesome! More divi in my pocket!”

    The second problem – some of those shareholders are people like you and me. Ouch.

    Great post.

  • Anonymous

    yeah, really good point around the shareholders. i guess i was thinking that ultimately this kind of behavior (and publicity) might damage the corporate brand…it might weaken employee engagement…it might hinder long-term growth. but you’re right, most (institutional shareholders particularly) are more concerned about the quick $ in the pocket. that’s another story in-and-of-itself. thanks for chiming in!

  • Anonymous

    thanks, chris. it’s not as hard as it looks…particularly when it lights a fire in your belly.