I can say with all honesty that I don't have much in common with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. To me, his liberal arrogance and hypocrisy, paired with his obvious love of buffets and aversion to exercise, produces a combination as appealing as five-day-old sushi.
But I'll always be grateful to the portly Michigander for one thing, his skewering of former General Motors chairman Roger Smith in the film "Roger and Me."
Never having much use for GM cars anyway -- save for a vintage 1969 convertible Cadillac DeVille my father once owned and the late John DeLorean's brainchild, the GTO -- I rarely paid attention to what transpired within the hallowed 14th floor -- the venue for the company's executives.
Not long after seeing Moore's film, I learned that on Roger's watch, the company's North American division had lost $4 billion one year (yes, that's with a "b").
I'm not bragging, but I'm quite certain that had you installed my rather intelligent 10-year-old daughter in Smith's post, she would have been hard-pressed to lose more than $4 billion. And I doubt she would have earned Smith's lavish compensation package.
Smith's reward when he left GM? Instead of being run out of town, he landed a coveted board seat at PepsiCo Inc.
How would you like to have been a GM stockholder during that period and try and unravel Smith's compensation package from the investor information supplied to shareholders some 15-20 years ago?
Last week, however, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously on its first updates on executive compensation rules since 1992, and has proposed to give investors more detailed information on executive pay and, of course, perks.
Under the agency's proposal, companies would have to provide information on executive pay in greater detail -- read: plain English --and post it as a single dollar figure on the bottom line. Companies would also be required to explain the objectives behind their executives' compensation.
Now to be clear, the regulator isn't attacking the problem of excessive CEO compensation -- which is a Pandora's Box all its own -- but one SEC commissioner said the new requirements would provide investors with a "one stop shopping" venue to quickly ferret out what CEOs earn.
Investor advocates rightly claim that changes to compensation disclosure are long overdue and have pointed to the fact that stockholders of General Electric were, if you'll pardon the pun, in the dark about the opulent post-retirement benefits of former chairman Jack Welch, perks that included a bodyguard and an apartment in one of Manhattan's most pricey addresses .
But Welch inarguably delivered results for his shareholders, while as you can probably glean by the plummeting share price of General Motors and its well-documented problems with pension funding, Smith was simply part of a protracted linear incompetence on the 14th floor.
While the SEC proposal won't curb over-the-top salaries and bonuses for top executives, it promises to make the annual shareholders meetings for Fortune 500 companies that much more interesting.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access