Battlepanda: Buffett on executive compensation


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Buffett on executive compensation

Warren Buffett's annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway is always on my must-read list as soon as it is released. In this year's (2005) letter, Buffett includes a small sermon on excessive executive compensation. Here's an excerpt.
Huge severance payments, lavish perks and outsized payments for ho-hum performance often occur because comp committees have become slaves to comparative data. The drill is simple: Three or so directors -- not chosen by chance -- are bombarded for a few hours before a board meeting with pay statistics that perpetually ratchet upwards. Additionally, the committee is told about new perks that other managers are receiving. In this manner, outlandish "goodies" are showered upon CEOs simply because of a corporate version of the argument we all used when children: "But, Mom, all the other kids have one." When comp committees follow this "logic," yesterday's most egregious excess becomes today's baseline.

Comp committees should adopt the attitude of Hank Greenberg, the Detroit slugger and a boyhood hero of mine. Hank's son, Steve, at one time was a player's agent. Representing an outfielder in negotiations with a major league club, Steve sounded out his dad about the size of the signing bonus he should ask for. Hank, a true pay-for-performance guy, got straight to the point, "What did he hit last year?" When Steve answered ".246," Hank's comeback was immediate: "Ask for a uniform."

(Let me pause for a brief confession: In criticizing comp committee behavior, I don't speak as a true insider. Though I have served as a director of twenty public companies, only one CEO has put me on his comp committee. Hmmmm . . .)
The section on executive compensation is on pages 15 and 16, but the whole 22-page letter is worth reading.