In a report released last week, Paul Hodgson of The Corporate Library targeted upfront payments to newly hired senior executives as one more component of the executive-compensation package that companies abuse.
Hodgson, a senior research associate at the Web-based tracker of executive-pay practices, said so-called “golden hellos” are averaging $15 million each and getting bigger.
The study looked at 30 of the most recent signing bonuses, taken from a database of 1,800 major U.S. companies. The upfront payments averaged $15 million per CEO — ranging from $45 million paid to Gary Wendt when he was hired by Conseco Inc. in 2000 to $150,000 paid to Steve Odland in 2001 when he joined AutoZone Inc. Payments were made in cash, stock, additional contributions to supplemental retirement plans or in a combination of forms.
The report focuses on CEOs but notes that chief executives aren’t the only ones raking it in just for walking in the door. When former AT&T Corp. CFO Chuck Noski signed on, the telco paid him $1,561,250 to “incent” him to join, and then another $2 million when he did sign on the dotted line.
Upfront payments became common in the tight labor market of the late 1990s and have flourished since. Such payments go beyond a signing bonus, which has been around for decades. Now, golden hellos are used to compensate star executives for everything from bonuses paid by their previous employer that they would give up by joining the new company to “retention bonuses” for staying with the company once they join.
Hodgson has a bone to pick with the excessiveness of such payments, particularly since he believes many of these payments don’t achieve their goal — to attract and keep a highly qualified executive. He notes that many executives accept hefty bonuses upon joining a company, only to move on a short time later. He also criticizes the bonuses as another form of non-performance-based executive pay, saying many golden hellos are guaranteed — and therefore unrelated to performance.