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Oct 052009
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Pay cuts and job losses seem to dominate the recruitment news most days, but according to the latest research from the US, there’s one sector of the employment market that seems immune to the negative impact of an ailing global economy. While workers across the board bear the brunt of harsh economic times, the people at Dollarthe helm of the organisations they work for seem to be leading a charmed life.

To put things into perspective, between 2007 and 2008 the value of the US stock market dropped by an astonishing 37%, and 2.6 million American’s lost their jobs. Businesses across the board saw profits plummet, but while most staff suffered amidst the economic turmoil, one group seemed to be immune to recessionary pressure.

American shareholders rights group, the Corporate Library, surveyed 2,700 public companies and found that the median annual salary for CEOs dropped by a barely perceptible 0.08% in 2008. More than 75% of the CEOs surveyed actually reported an increase in their base salary over the same period.

"Paraphrasing the words of Mark Twain, rumours of the death of CEO pay have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, far from falling on its face – like the economy did – it has barely stumbled in its steady climb," commented Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate with the Corporate Library.

While CEO’s contracts would have been mostly agreed before the financial crisis hit, Hodgson points out that he’d still expect some elements of their remuneration package, such as bonuses, to reflect their actual performance in the job, but the link appears tenuous, or even non-existent according to the research. As an example he cites the second highest-paid CEO in the survey, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who took home $543 million despite a 21% drop in the company’s share price. The highest paid CEO surveyed was Steven A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, who earned a staggering $702 million in 2008.

The Corporate Library’s accolade of "highest paid / worst performing" CEO went to Michael Jeffries of giant clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, who came in at number nine in the top-ten highest earners list.

While Jeffries’ base salary was a paltry $1.5 million, exercising stock and option rights saw him boost his earnings to $71.8 million last year. The company he led fared less well. If you’d invested $1,000 in Abercrombie and Fitch at the start of 2008, your investment would have shrunk to just $300 by the end of that same year. Compare that to Apple’s Steve Jobs, who has earned €160 million in total over the last ten years, while guiding the technology company to unprecedented success, an 850% rise in its share price and a $150 billion hike to its market value.

With such disparity between executive pay and company performance it’s hardly surprising that public trust in America’s big corporations is at a low ebb, and while the numbers here in Ireland might not be quite so big, it’s unlikely this is an exclusively American trend.

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