Browse the proxy statements of the nation’s largest corporations and you’ll find the instruction manuals for this apparatus explaining how to finely calibrate the pay of top executives with company performance.
The Coca-Cola board, for example, lays out the formula that set the 2013 cash bonus for Muhtar Kent, its chief executive (base salary x base salary factor x business performance factor). It explains how a failure to achieve certain goals helped limit the bonus to $2 million, but also describes how Mr. Kent got millions more in stock and options. It notes that under his leadership, Coke had “continued to gain value share globally in nonalcoholic ready-to-drink beverages,” and tells shareholders why the board might require him to fly on the company jet (“to allow travel time to be used productively for the Company”). What was all that worth? A tidy $18 million.
But putting aside whether those particular metrics for aligning pay with performance make sense (or, rather, turning over that discussion to Gretchen Morgenson in her Fair Game column), the elegant machine itself would seem to have a dark side. Some say, in fact, that it is the main engine of inequality in America today.
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