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If you've been looking for the holy grail of lickity-split wealth creation, then you're in luck because I've found it. In all likelihood, your total work days will equate to less than two months per year, and if you miss a quarter or so of the meetings, nobody will get bent out of shape. You'll have to travel for most of the days that you'll work, but all travel expenses will be reimbursed -- and don't worry, reimbursement policies are liberal.
And the payoff? Within two years you'll very likely be a millionaire. Maybe sooner.
So what is this mystery dream job? It's a corporate board member.
The big money nobody talks about
When I die, I want to come back as a board member. Just take a peek at these mouth-watering numbers.
Total Annual Board Meetings
Compensation Per Board Meeting
|George Munoz||Altria (NYSE: MO ) , Anixter International, Marriott International||18||$695,359||$38,631|
|Floyd Loop||Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG ) , Tenet Healthcare (NYSE: THC )||13||$651,711||$50,132|
|Michael Boskin||Oracle, ExxonMobil||19||$956,231||$50,328|
|Millard Drexler||Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL )||5||$1,076,258||$215,252|
Source: SEC filings.
Note: Total board meetings include company annual shareholder meetings. Board seats and total compensation excludes private company boards.
In addition to the board meetings listed in the table, these directors may have attended some other meetings. Independent directors often have additional meetings on their own and to the extent that these folks serve on board committees -- audit committee, compensation committee, etc. -- they often attend separate meetings for those as well.
But you've got to admit, those are pretty incredible fees. Those per-meeting numbers are like Justin-Bieber-at-your-daughter's-birthday money. Heck, for that much he might even sing a couple songs and make eye contact.
In the hullabaloo over executive compensation, I don't know that I've seen anything that looks at what directors are paid. Perhaps it's because it's easy to overlook since the numbers are markedly lower than what named executives are pulling in. But considered in relation to the board members' time investment in the company, the pay can be considerable, if not excessive.
Maybe it simply has to be this way. After all, many large-company boards have some folks with serious resumes overseeing things.
From the list above, Munoz was the founder of an investment banking group, a partner at a law firm with his name on it, and was a former Assistant Secretary and CFO of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Floyd Loop was the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic after spending 30 years as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Mickey Drexler was the former CEO of Gap and the current CEO of J. Crew. And I'm sure you'd recognize the name of one of Drexler's fellow Apple board members, Al Gore.
But strangely this doesn't seem to hold from company to company. Apple saw fit to pay its directors between $800,000 and $1.3 million while Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) got away with paying most of its directors around $200,000. And Microsoft's board can claim a former JPMorgan Chase CFO, a former Merck CEO, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, among others.
Intuitive Surgical, a company with a $14 billion market cap, thought it necessary to pay most of its directors more than $400,000. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) a company roughly 11 times Intuitive Surgical's size and that held more than twice the number of board meetings, was apparently able to fill its board with highly qualified members that were willing to serve for around half of what Intuitive was paying.
And, as is often the case, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) makes everyone else look terrible. In 2010, its highest paid board member received $6,700. Total. And Berkshire doesn't pay for directors and officers liability insurance -- a protection typically provided for board members at other companies.
Should we really care?
Yes! Of course we should care! For starters, investors need to consider whether big board fees are a wise use of shareholder capital. There are obviously well-qualified people out there willing to fill board seats without requiring outlandish remuneration. Does Al Gore really bring that much to Apple that his presence on the board and attendance of a handful of meetings per year is worth nearly $1.3 million?
Shareholders might also want to ponder what it means for the company when it pays huge fees to the board. Do priorities and motivations change when directors are receiving $200,000 versus three or four times that? Maybe higher-paid board members actually work harder. Or maybe they just more concerned with getting kicked off the gravy train.
And if the kind of compensation given to some of boards of directors burns you, consider this: In almost all cases, it's the board of directors that sets the board of directors' compensation policies.
The final say
Of course, in the end, it's the company's true owners -- the shareholders -- that have the final say. With proxy materials either already in the hands of shareholders or soon on their way, owners have the opportunity to vote against a board that is excessively compensating itself. And if you're feeling extra outspoken, most proxy letters include instructions for filing shareholders resolutions for inclusion in next year's proxy materials.
That said, investors also have the opportunity to vote with their money by selling stocks of companies with overly generous pay packages and focusing on those that have more reasonable policies. In fact, you can add a few of those latter companies to your Foolish watchlist right now: