Should executives share the pain of pay cuts?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

If corporate ethicist David Layzell had his way, all public companies would institute performance-based executive pay programs like Monaco Coach recently did.

In response to lagging sales, the Coburg-based luxury RV maker announced this summer they were laying off workers and shuttering manufacturing operations in Indiana. The company also decided to reduce the pay of its top executives.

The program cuts the pay of top managers by 15% to 50%, though portions of their compensation can be earned back if they reduce company inventory by $58 million over the next 12 months, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

As the economy slows, top-level executive pay is bound to be an issue with investors as overall business suffers. Layzell, associate director at the Portland State University Center for Professional Integrity and Accountability, says reducing executive pay when times are bad is what any “reasonable company” should do.

But premium executive talent can be tough to find and to keep. A company must also consider the consequences of a skilled and experienced executive leaving for a more desirable job if they take a pay cut. A company must ask, “Can we consciously pay below market value,” Layzell says. After all, “If you pay below market value, you get below market quality,” he says.

Aside from finances, a favorable company image is also at stake. By reconsidering the compensation of a struggling company’s top decision-makers, it addresses the question of “sharing the pain,” says Layzell.

Monaco CEO Kay Toolson’s pay was slashed by 50% and president John Nepute’s compensation was cut by 30%. This should save the company about a million dollars over the year, says Craig Wanichek, Monaco’s director of investor relations.

“It’s about tying the objective of the company with the management team,” Wanichek says. Executive pay-reduction initiatives are relatively new in corporate governance. Layzell, who also held a number of senior finance roles at Intel for 26 years, says such programs were born from the excesses of the 1990s. In recent years, exorbitant executive compensation has encountered a firestorm of scrutiny as investors and employees demand management be held accountable, not rewarded, for a failing company.

Saving money by reducing your own pay, though, is just a small part of it. It’s also a statement of solidarity, says Layzell. When employees see that their bosses are willing to cut their own pay, it boosts workplace morale.                     

JASON SHUFFLER


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Editor's Letter: Power Play

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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