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Chief executives still rake in bonuses despite underperformance

Photo: Many executives seem to strike a good deal for them, where they still collect their bonuses despite underperformance. (Henk L: Photo: Many executives seem to strike a good deal for them, where they still collect their bonuses despite underperformance. (Henk L:

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start when writing about executive pay. Eighty-six per cent of senior executives in top 200 companies got bonuses last year when we all know many of those companies did not have outstanding years.

There's a suspicion that many received big handouts for what most would regard as just "doing their job", such as meeting budget.

And of course, there are some individual pay packets that make headlines.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce was paid $25 million in 2017 when, at that stage, a $2.8 billion loss in 2014 ensured Mr Joyce's net result for shareholders during his nine-year tenure has been minus $155m.

At the Commonwealth Bank, former chief executive Ian Narev received $12 million in 2016, with $10 million being a bonus (incentives).

In financial terms, CBA is the best-performing bank in the country.

It's also the bank whose behaviour is probably most responsible for the creation of the royal commission into bank misconduct.

CBA's poor culture came to a head with last year's money-laundering scandal, which effectively cost Mr Narev his job.

America's billion-dollar-boss

But the generosity of senior executive pay packets here pales into insignificance compared to the top of the US corporate ladder.

One of the world's biggest private equity firms, Blackstone, is in the process of transitioning to a new chief executive.

Stephen Schwarzman is making plans to step down after 30 years in the top job.

And Mr Schwarzman is exhibit A in the world of corporate excess.

Last year he earned $1.02 billion.

That's right! Your eyes are not deceiving you. More than a billion dollars.

In 2016, his pay was $564 million, and in 2015 it was $953 million.

That's $2.5 billion for three years work.

Blackstone's chief operating officer, Jon Gray, the man who will be replacing Mr Schwarzman, earned by comparison a paltry $355 million last year.

The numbers are so big they are hard to comprehend. As they say, "only in the United States…"

But here's the rub.

Blackstone is a listed company. It was floated in 2007.

In those 11 years, Blackstone shares, including dividends, have made a return of 115 per cent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index over the same period has returned 128 per cent.

So, the men at the top of Blackstone are literally paying themselves billions of dollars a year to underperform the market by more than 1 per cent a year.

Shareholders in Blackstone would be better off investing in an index fund that simply tracked the market.

Good sports?

Business leaders often point to the big salaries of top sportsmen when trying to justify their own positions.

What they miss is that sportsmen and women must consistently perform better than nearly everybody else to get the big bucks.

Steve Smith, for example, has a Test batting average of 61.

His excellence is there for all to see. The best since Bradman.

Underperforming the market for 11 years is not excellence but, unlike sport, in the corporate world often the link between pay and performance can be very tenuous.

This article was first published by
Author: business reporter Andrew Robertson
Last modified onThursday, 03 May 2018 23:42

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