It's time CEOs face all employees and explain why they're worth 500times more than them

Most of the proposals in President Bush's speech on corporate governance - the one that sent the stock market tumbling 500 points over the succeeding seven days - seemed designed to protect the status quo rather than set higher ethical standards, encourage greater accountability, or expand current levels of transparency.

Most of the proposals in President Bush's speech on corporate governance - the one that sent the stock market tumbling 500 points over the succeeding seven days - seemed designed to protect the status quo rather than set higher ethical standards, encourage greater accountability, or expand current levels of transparency.

In one example, the President called for more candor on the subject of executive compensation. "The SEC currently requires the annual disclosure of a CEO's compensation, said Bush. "But that information is often buried in long proxy statements, and is seldom seen by shareholders. I challenge every CEO in America to describe in the company's annual report - prominently, and in plain English - details of his or her compensation package, including salary, bonus, and benefits.

"And the CEO, in that report, should also explain why his or her compensation package is in the best interest of the company."

Like most of Bush's proposals, this one didn't go far enough. Yes, the CEO should be expected to explain his or her compensation package to shareholders, but what about other constituents, such as employees?

There's a pretty strong case to be made that running corporations exclusively for the benefit of their shareholders - rather than for the benefit of all their stakeholders - is at the root of our current crisis. But in this limited space, let's focus on this one narrow issue - CEO pay - and its impact on employee loyalty and shared sense of mission.

By now, everyone knows the figures. Two decades ago, the average CEO made 50 times as much as the average worker. Today, he makes 500 times more. Until recently, this was defended on the grounds that pay was tied to performance - a myth that was exploded when compensation continued to rise last year, even as profits plummeted.

Ah, but we must pay CEOs hundreds of millions of dollars if we want to attract the best candidates, don't we? Actually, where else would CEOs earn that kind of money, unless Jeffrey Immelt has a better jump shot than he's letting on, or Bill Gates is working on a second career as a gangsta rapper.

If a good CEO is worth hundreds of millions, isn't that at least partially offset by the value of esprit de corps?

After all, there's a reason why the commandant of the Marine Corps earns just 13 times more than the lowest level private.

The CEO should be forced to explain his compensation package to shareholders, via the annual report, but he should also have to do so in the employee newsletter - or preferably, in face-to-face meetings with employees, where they are free to ask him why his contribution is worth 500 times more than they earn. If he can't handle those questions, or answer them with a straight face, chances are he's not worth all those millions.

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