Pay and the pandemic
For some American CEOs, it was as if covid-19 did not happen
Last year was a terrible one for travel of any sort. You would not know it from the way some American chief executives trousered pay. Annual filings show that Larry Culp, boss of GE, whose jet-engine business stalled as aviation nosedived, earned $73m, almost triple his total pay in 2019. Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton, a hotel chain, enjoyed a 161% pay boost, receiving $55.9m. Norwegian Cruise Line, which described 2020 as the hardest year in its history, more than doubled the compensation of its CEO, Frank Del Rio, to $36.4m. All three were among the corporate titans who grandly took cuts in their basic pay and/or bonuses during the pandemic. They pocketed far more than they gave up.
They did so thanks to a nifty conjuring trick performed in boardrooms across America last year. In effect, many boards air-brushed away the impact of covid-19 on performance-based pay either by removing a quarter or two of bad numbers in order to meet bonus targets, changing the metrics mid-course, or—as with Messrs Culp, Nassetta and Del Rio—by issuing new share grants after the pandemic gutted the previous ones. (Mr Culp and Mr Del Rio also got contract extensions.)