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What do you call somebody who accepts rewards he or she doesn't really deserve? Someone who balks, scoffs, or acts clueless when you demand rational examples of good performance over time? Someone who wants a bailout when things go wrong, but still keeps pushing for more goodies, even after screwing up?
The word "jerk" comes to mind. Then again, so does "typical CEO of a major company."
So what do you pay for?
A recent Washington Post article pointed out that last year, Wall Street CEOs continued to receive lavish perks, even at businesses that took government money. These cushy extras included "country club dues, chauffeured drivers, personal finance planning services, home security services, and parking."
The article pointed out that JPMorgan Chase's (NYSE: JPM ) Jamie Dimon enjoyed a 19% increase in perks in 2009, up to $266,000 -- including $91,000 in personal travel on the company plane.
Apparently, a lot of CEOs have been feeling pretty insecure lately. Dimon, Goldman Sachs' (NYSE: GS ) Lloyd Blankfein, and Capital One Financial's (NYSE: COF ) Richard Fairbank all received higher (and pricier) levels of personal and home security in 2009.
Compensation consultant Equilar studied 29 large recipients of federal aid, discovering that 1 in 3 of them boosted such extra goodies for their CEOs.
Soaring perks for some
Alas, Wall Street's little different from most of the rest of corporate America, where countless corporations' boards of directors express no qualms about handing out such largesse at shareholder expense.
In a recent look at top execs' "security" perk, I noted that while some companies have ratcheted back such expenses, other CEOs enjoyed an increase in that benefit last year. That's ironic, since many Americans felt much more financially insecure in the same period of time.
The price tag for Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX ) CEO Howard Schultz's protection increased 25% to $640,000 in 2009, while Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) spent an eye-popping $1.7 million on varying security measures for Jeff Bezos.
Beyond the Wall Street types, though, the prize for "Most Outrageous" probably goes to Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF ) , which recently decided to pay CEO Mike Jeffries (already very highly compensated) $4 million in exchange for limiting his use of the corporate jet.
That's antisocial, all right
This behavior is most disturbing in the Wall Street set. Many of those companies directly played into the financial crisis, and plenty would have failed without government assistance. Asking for more goodies in the wake of such utter failure seems downright sociopathic.
I'm pretty sure there was a time when powerful individuals might worry about what society thought of them if they appeared to greedily take advantage of a situation. These days, that concept doesn't seem to cross many minds. I guess all those chauffeured rides, secured mansions, and country club jaunts leave the top brass living in a self-satisfied bubble. I just can't agree that shareholders should foot the bill for their lavish lifestyles.
Prime time for a pushback
At the end of 2008, I hoped that many folks would think about what had transpired in the years leading up to the financial crisis. While some degree of self-interest can be positive and drive folks to achievement, unbridled and ruthlessly selfish greed can have deadly consequences. Alas, the subsequent lack of any sort of real change in the business worlds suggests that Americans have short attention spans.
However, there are increasing signs that some shareholders are seizing their chance to encourage greater responsibility from managements and their boards. Occidental Petroleum and Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) shareholders both recently pushed back on pay, for example.
Furthermore, I was recently gratified to hear that AFSCME (an institutional shareholder activist linked to the AFL-CIO) has started a "Vote No" campaign for Abercrombie & Fitch's June 9 annual meeting. The group plans to vote against directors who have served on Abercrombie's compensation committee. It's also pushing for an independent chairman, and urging other Abercrombie shareholders to do the same.
Hopefully, more shareholders will join the chorus raising its voice against management excesses and director complicity. If management teams and boards continue to push the limits of what seems rational and reasonable, it's high time the rest of us push right back.
Check back at Fool.com every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on corporate governance.