PAUL HOLMES: Garnier epitomizes problems of excessive compensation and deficient media training

A few years ago, writing a story about media training, I thought it would be a fun idea to get media trained myself. The first thing my media trainer did was sit me down in a chair and force me to watch Lawrence Rawl, the former CEO of Exxon, interviewed on one of the morning shows a few days after the Valdez disaster. Passing up every opportunity to express contrition, Rawl was totally oblivious to the expectations of his interviewer and the public. It was a textbook example of how not to handle the media, and a timely reminder of how badly things could go for the unprepared.

A few years ago, writing a story about media training, I thought it would be a fun idea to get media trained myself. The first thing my media trainer did was sit me down in a chair and force me to watch Lawrence Rawl, the former CEO of Exxon, interviewed on one of the morning shows a few days after the Valdez disaster. Passing up every opportunity to express contrition, Rawl was totally oblivious to the expectations of his interviewer and the public. It was a textbook example of how not to handle the media, and a timely reminder of how badly things could go for the unprepared.

This week, Jean-Pierre Garnier, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, provided the print equivalent of that TV news clip in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph might be Britain's most conservative newspaper, so one would expect it to be sympathetic to Garnier, who has been in the firing line recently after shareholders voted against a very generous pay package for its directors, including the now de rigueur millions to be awarded to Garnier should he screw up to the point that the board fires him. According to Telegraph city editor Neil Collins, "For a man who has just been savaged on the front page of nearly every national newspaper, Garnier is looking relaxed to the point of indifference." Garnier's responses to Collins' queries convey the same impression. Asked about his compensation package, he tells the reporter, "I'm not Mother Teresa." Pressed further on the shareholder vote, he notes it was not binding: "'After all, that vote was only advisory,' he says, grinning." Garnier has never been particularly media savvy, it seems. Many reporters covering the latest pay package, which would compensate him to the tune of around $35 million if he were dismissed, pointed to his past observations on the subject of compensation. In 1999, when Glaxo and SmithKline merged, he told critics, "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys - and we cannot have monkeys running this company." Of course, as any New York Mets fan can attest, organizations can pay well in excess of $100 million for talent and still get monkeys. And indeed, the value of GlaxoSmithKline's shares has decreased by a third since the merger, when Garnier took the helm. While it's possible that monkeys would have done even worse, it's a reminder that the connection between pay and performance exists largely in the imagination of those reaping the greatest rewards. So Garnier has become the new poster boy for excessive compensation. But one suspects he is not alone in his failure to understand the growing outrage or the widening chasm between companies and their stakeholders on this issue.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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