The executives of these companies had to see this coming. When a company is “too big to fail,” it becomes a public institution in senses of the phrase but the most literal. And for a number of banks and other financial companies in the past year, the public has become a partial owner thanks to infusion of cash from the government bailouts.
A company has a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of its stakeholders. For these bailed-out companies, taxpayers hold more of that stake than ever before. Those who own shares of stock in these companies want nothing more than the companies to be self-sustaining and profitable, but taxpayers, all who have lent money to the companies to help prop up their balance sheets and create liquidity, just want these loans paid back regardless of profit.
The government officially represents the taxpayers, not the shareholders, but you can be sure the government wants to see these companies profit, too. The Obama administration’s “pay czar,” Ken Feinberg, is going to determine the compensation for the highest 25 paid individuals in each of the companies that have not yet repaid government funds. The new compensation plans would reduce total pay by an average of 50% per individual and would reduce the cash portion of pay by an average of 90%.
This could benefit both taxpayers and shareholders in the short term:
- Pay reductions create an incentive for companies to pay back the taxpayers and become fully private.
- Lowering pay lowers companies’ expenses so they can report bigger profits in their quarterly an annual financial statements.
The challenge with government-mandated compensation restriction is that executives and boards of directors believe that bailed-out companies will be less appealing to the best and brightest talent. Corporate leaders who find they can only earn $40 million at Company A but could earn $80 million or more by moving to a company not partially controlled by the public might defect for greener pastures.
That sounds like a solid threat, but it’s not likely on a large scale. There are enough talented and qualified senior-level executives out there who would be happy to take the reins of a company partially owned by the government. At least, that is what Ken Feinberg is hoping.
It’s unlikely taxpayers will see bailed-out companies repay all of the money that they received. The government’s job right now is to get back as much of those funds as possible while still, to a point, preventing the companies from failing.
Photo credit: epicharmus
Wall Street Pay Cuts Stoke Debate About Washington’s Reach, Julianna Goldman, Ian Katz and Robert Schmidt, Bloomberg, October 22, 2009
Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published October 22, 2009.