A Lesson to CEOs

Don't let this happen to you. I don't really care what Grasso makes, as long as shareholders (or members, in the case of the NYSE) approve it. To be honest, I don't really understand his pay package.

The NYSE revealed its top executive's pay for the first time last month as it announced Grasso's contract had been extended through 2007. News that he would receive a lump sum payment of $139.5 million in accrued benefits and tax-deferred savings sent jaws dropping across Wall Street. The funds accumulated over his 36-year career with the exchange, mostly during his eight years as chairman.

I'm used to thinking in terms of yearly salary, not "accrued benefits". Maybe I'll lookup some details and post more later. If it is really that unreasonable, he shouldn't have been awarded it in the first place. If it is incentive based and he has hit all his targets, then he has nothing to be ashamed of and should not resign.

UPDATE: First there is this, which explains the pay package in more detail.

An official close to the exchange board said Grasso's previous contract had included a guaranteed 8% annual return on the portion of his compensation that he deferred each year. Such a return, given low interest rates, contributed to a sharp increase in his deferred savings in recent years.

Grasso was traveling on Wednesday and unavailable to respond to criticism of his compensation. In a statement Wednesday, Grasso said that he took the $140 million payments for financial planning purposes. "At this time, I thought it advisable in order to facilitate personal financial and estate planning to withdraw my accumulated deferred compensation, savings and retirement benefits, which are subject to full income taxes."

The stock exchange revealed Grasso's salary and bonus details in tandem with its decision to award Grasso a contract that would expire in May 2007, replacing the old one that expired in 2005.

While the exchange has never formally disclosed Grasso's compensation, he is reported to have been paid about $12 million in 2002 and $15 million to $20 million in 2001.

8% is not outrageous, and Grasso was actually smart (and not subject to short-term greed) to defer as much as possible. It does seem, according to this article that his pay package got a little high starting in 1999, but come on, he was in the fight of his life against NASDAQ, and he did a damn find job of keeping the NYSE dominant.

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I don't agree with outrageous executive compensation because it hurts shareholders and many times disconnects pay from performance. I don't know what the financials of the NYSE look like, or what other CEOs there have accomplished, so I can't accurately pass judgement as to whether or not Grasso was overpaid, but it does seem a little high these last few years. The media, though, is making it out to look like he is making $140 million a year, and that isn't true.