Making Sense of CEO Bonuses
It's not that there is no case to be made for Thain. He only took over last December, so literally has been cleaning up the messes of others, and pulled off the acquisition by Bank of America. And yet, the board noted that more successful Wall Street firms - or at least one, Goldman Sachs - aren't giving out bonuses, and that acquiring BofA and the public at large might not sit too calmly with a big payout when so much was lost.
When Mr. Thain landed at Merrill in late 2007, he received a $15 million cash signing bonus and a pay package that was valued from about $50 million to $120 million over a number of years.As much disaster as he may have averted, he clearly signed on to do something that a more realistic person might have said wasn't possible. If you're going to get big bucks, then you need to deliver big. And if he couldn't see where things were going as recently as a year ago, then maybe he wasn't so insightful after all. Or is the board punishing Thain because it's embarrassed at not having checked the stupidity of his predecessors?
Merrill shares were trading above $50 when he was hired, and his pay package was structured heavily toward his ability to increase the price by another $40 or more. Merrill's shares have fallen steadily this year, closing Friday at $13.04 in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
I have a tad more sympathy for Toyota management, which is seeing its bonuses reduced as car sales slide off the road. The company had been doing marvelously well and is clearly caught in forces larger than human decision. But when things go bad, employees are always asked to tighten their belts. Making the same request of management seems only fair.