The renunciation by Jeff Immelt of his 2008 bonus, though laudable, is not unique. the Chairmen of Costco, James Sinegal, and Whole Foods, John Mackey, in 2007 decided not to take their bonuses even though, unlike the GE shares, the shares of their respective companies under their tutelage had done quite well. Noteworthy in this context is the observation of Costco’ Compensation Committee as reported in Costco’s SEC filings :The Committee …wishes to respect Mr. Senegal’s wishes to receive modest compensation, in part because it believes that higher amounts would not change Mr. Senegal’s motivation and performance”.
Food for thought indeed in these times of compensation packages under ever greater scrutiny. Should other companies follow Whole Food’s lead and establish limits on the maximum cash bonuses as a function of the average hourly wages for all full-time employees ($15, 38/h or $ 31,900/year at Whole Foods which with a maximum multiplier of 19 translates to a top cash bonus of $ 607,800).
Clear from these examples is that money is not the alpha and the omega of compensation policies. After all, paying a CEO twice the current compensation will not mean that the CEO will work twice as hard since that CEO is already supposed to work all the time for the company’s best interests.
Should we, as Messrs Buffet and Munger do, ask whether the senior executives love the money or the business?