In the wake of the Enron and WorldCom corporate scandals, the purveyors of envy have found another opportunity to preach about what they consider the evils of high CEO salaries, retirements and bonuses. After all, according to them, evil must be afoot when a corporate executive earns more in a week that the average worker earns in an entire year. Let's look at it.
Is a CEO worth millions of dollars to a corporation? When Jack Welch became General Electric's CEO in 1981, the stock market judged the company to be worth about $14 billion. Through hiring and firing, buying and selling, Welch turned the company around before he retired in 2001. Today, GE is worth nearly $500 billion, making it one of the most valuable companies in the world. What's a CEO worth for providing the brains and leadership to turn a $14 billion corporation into one worth $500 billion? How about paying just a measly one-half of a percent of the increase in value? If that were the case, Welch's total compensation would have come to nearly $2.5 billion, instead of the few hundred million that he actually received.
Here are a couple of questions to you: If you were the owner of GE, and a CEO could turn your $14 billion corporation into a $500 billion one, how much would you be willing to pay that man in salary and bonuses? Or, in the case of Jim Kilts, turning Gillette from a corporation in steep decline into one Procter & Gamble was willing to buy for $57 billion, how much would you be willing to pay?
Then, you might ask yourself: If a corporate board of directors could buy a $300 computer that could do what a CEO could do, would it pay CEOs millions of dollars? By the same token, if an NFL owner could hire a computer to make the decisions that star quarterbacks make, why would he pay some of these guys yearly compensation packages worth more than $10 million?
There's another important issue. If one company has an effective CEO, it is not the only company that would like to have him on the payroll. In order to keep him, the company must pay him enough so that he can't be lured elsewhere.
If you ask me, I know of only one class of workers who are overpaid and underworked -- college professors.