WaMu Richly Rewards CEO Failure

Back in March, Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  ) drew all sorts of flak for concocting an executive compensation plan that made absolutely no sense. The plan effectively ignored the fallout from the credit crisis when calculating executive bonuses. In essence, it ensured that management would still walk out with fat paychecks, despite heading one of the most boneheaded subprime lenders in America --and what would ultimately become the largest bank failure in history.

Well, give 'em a hand, everybody ... WaMu just beat its own record of corporate arrogance.

Money for nothing and a terrible reputation for free
WaMu's new CEO, Alan Fishman, might go down as the ultimate showcase of executive greed if he doesn't do the right thing in the next few days. After just 432 hours on the job -- during which time he presided over the complete collapse of the company -- Fishman stands to collect more than $19 million in pay.

That's right: $19 million for 18 days work, or an annualized rate of $385 million. $1.05 million per day. $44,000 per hour. More money than most people will make in several lifetimes, all to watch one of America's largest banks spiral into failure.

Fishman has to stay on through the finalization of the JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) fire sale to collect the entire bounty. If he leaves before then, he could have to repay his $7.5 million signing bonus. Want more salt on the wound? It might have been worse. Fishman also received more than 600,000 shares of restricted stock and 5 million stock options. Those are all worthless scraps of paper now.

Don't shoot the messenger .... unless he's absurdly overpaid.
In all fairness, Fishman had nothing to do with WaMu's demise: He was brought in Sept. 8 to replace long-time CEO Kerry Killinger, who led the company down a lethal road of subprime and adjustable-rate mortgage products. Then again, that's what's frustrating about all of this: Fishman could have legitimately earned his pay had he orchestrated a sale of the company to a host of banks that showed interest, including Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , and HSBC (NYSE: HBC  ) . It's not necessarily his fault that he didn't, but he certainly shouldn't be rewarded like a king for achieving precisely nothing for shareholders.

The big question now: Will Fishman accept the pay? You better believe he'll have a world of pressure to turn down the pay package, especially just a week after AIG's (NYSE: AIG  ) short-term CEO turned down a $22 million severance check following last week's government bailout.

All eyes on you, Alan.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On September 30, 2008, at 10:54 AM, BonMotley wrote:

    So, basically, we could have gone out on the street and picked someone at random - a bartender, a paperboy, a bum, etc. - to head up WAMU for 18 days, and the company would have fared just as well. Better, in fact, since our annointed one, not having any credentials, would not have been able to swing such a sweet golden parachute deal.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2008, at 12:10 PM, elo8 wrote:

    Dr. Tantillo, who has a marketing blog ( http://blog.marketingdoctor.tv ), did a post last week on WaMu, saying that their marketing campaign (i.e., goofy commercials ridiculing old-style bankers and trying to give the bank a supposedly hipper image - ) was at the least a sign that their company was headed the wrong direction.

    Dr. Tantillo blogs from a branding perspective, and posits that any company must stay true to its brand's 'core features' to succeed.

    "As with most of the marketing losers of the past, WaMu put 'image' marketing first and let rapid growth eclipse brand and marketing fundamentals."

    Full post: http://blog.marketingdoctor.tv/2008/09/26/brand-advisory-buf...

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