Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

It's always been clear that not all CEOs drive their companies to greatness.

Is it because events conspire against them? Sometimes.

Occasionally, though, they're out of their depth. Or perhaps just trying to secure their own bonuses, rather than drive companies in fresh new -- and even profitable -- directions.

Of course, if they fail, tears aren't always the first reaction.

The recent example of Marissa Mayer at sadly under-performing -- and now sold to Verizon -- Yahoo suggests that she may get more than $50 million if the purchase leads to her departure.

Actually, let's talk about money.

Corporate governance research firm MSCI decided to look at whether there's some link between large lucre and large failure.

The first sentence of its executive summary makes for deliciously sad reading: "Has CEO pay reflected long-term stock performance? In a word, 'no.'"

Ah.

The second sentence doesn't make things sound better: "Companies that awarded their Chief Executive Officers higher equity incentives had below-median returns based on a sample of 429 large-cap US companies observed between 2006 and 2015."

How bad is it?

If, in 2005, you invested $100 in the 20 percent of companies that enjoyed the highest-paid CEOs, your money would have grown to $265 in 2014.

But if you'd have ignored those overpaid sorts and shifted your little stash to the companies with the lowest-paid CEOs, you'd have made $367.

Doesn't it remind you a little of baseball?

Once a player signs a corpulent contract, sometimes his play heads toward the Cape Of No Hope.

And once a team spends throat-gulping amounts on whole teams --- hullo, New York Yankees, how have things been going lately? -- they're strangled in their own contractual chains.

MSCI concluded that long-term investors don't always learn about the vast bonuses and other little perks that some CEOs negotiate for themselves, with the willing participation of their boards.

MCSI's Ric Marshall explained in a blog post that "long-term incentive pay was the largest element of CEO pay, accounting for more than 70 percent of compensation for both summary pay and realized pay (which incorporates stocks gains realized during the course of the year)."

When 70 percent of your earnings depends on potentially opaque (to investors) incentives, you have quite the motivation. (Or not.)

MSCI says it worked quite hard to discern what the true CEO salaries are.

Which is a cue for one more slightly depressing sentence: "We derived such long-term measures from multiple filings but we believe the lack of such integrated disclosure results in an excessive focus on short-term price gains, at the expense of long-term returns."

In essence, then, it seems that games may be played to create short-term excitement and the long-term implications are hidden far beneath the frisson of fizz.

It all might make those who believe that the 1 percent -- or even the 0.1 percent -- is simply lining every single pocket of its jackets and purses, feel queasy and angry.

You might imagine that even the lowest-paid CEOs still earn quite nicely.

In some human minds, there's always that nagging question: What do they do with all that money?

Is having five houses, two yachts and a fleet of fancy cars really so very wonderful?

It sounds like an awful lot of administration to me.

Published on: Jul 27, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.