I've noticed Talbots (NYSE: TLB ) stock often seems to have some pretty adamant fans among Foolish readers. However, there may be one less reason for loyalty.
Talbots has had to cut workers and benefits as it struggles to keep the ship afloat in the dire economy. (And of course, Talbots' business struggled even before the economy went south.) However, despite all the sacrifices employees have had to make, Talbots CEO Trudy Sullivan will receive $1.2 million to offset recent reductions in her retirement benefits. Granted, this was part of her 2007 employment agreement, but somehow I doubt this kind of thing goes over well with a workforce that’s been beset by layoffs and benefit reductions as the company tries to save money.
Despite Talbots' long struggles, Sullivan is fairly generously compensated in the first place. In 2008, she made in total $5.7 million, with a base salary of $1 million. Last year, her base salary was $500,000, but she received a $1 million bonus, and total compensation came to a grand total of $6.9 million.
Granted, whether a CEO is "overpaid" can be a pretty subjective opinion. Many companies use "peer groups" to help determine pay, and Talbots' peer group includes some similar companies (Chico's (NYSE: CHS ) , Coldwater Creek (Nasdaq: CWTR ) , Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN ) ) as well as some you could argue are rather dissimilar in terms of size or product (Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) , Macy's (NYSE: M ) ). Peer groups can definitely subvert the idea of pay for performance, instead hoping investors focus on competitive compensation practices in the marketplace.
Many of us would rather see more emphasis on pay for performance, though, and the fact that Talbots has been seriously struggling for ages is enough to make one wonder about millions in pay and perks for its chief executive officer, including this latest perk. Plus, we're talking about longtime malaise in its business; a glance at its five-year chart illustrates the ugly tale.
In these painful times, it would be nice to see more corporate executives make sacrifices similar to the ones their employees are forced to make; I may be picking on Talbots, but I also picked on Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , a stock I own, for similar reasons. There's always a point where corporate boards and managements can ponder doing the right thing. Furthermore, shareholders should wonder why companies with dwindling profitability (or in Talbots' case, no annual profitability for years running) continue to richly compensate executives for jobs not so well done.