CEOs' perks rub some the wrong way

NEW YORK • He is the chief executive of a pizza giant who makes millions, but also gets an allowance - for buying pizza.

No, it is not a tasty sub-plot in a movie comedy, but what Domino's Pizza's chief executive officer Patrick Doyle actually was treated to last year.

His US$11.1 million (S$15 million) salary last year was topped off with US$224 for pizza, according to a Bloomberg Pay Index analysis of proxy filings.

"It begs the age-old question: You make X amount of money and you can't afford this on your own?" said Mr John Trentacoste, a partner at Farient Advisers, a compensation consulting firm.

While the days when security systems company Tyco International ponied up millions to indulge its executives' lavish lifestyles, including a US$15,000 dog umbrella stand for former CEO Dennis Kozlowski, are gone, rewards for the top bosses in the United States continue to rile many for their generosity.

Vail Resorts spent as much as US$11,220 on ski lessons and lodging at company-owned facilities for chief executive Rob Katz.

Fashion retailer Nordstrom contributed US$33,246 in merchandise discounts to co-president Blake Nordstrom.

But Mr Trentacoste said "certain perks can give the executive peace of mind and allow him or her to focus on the company rather than other things that pop up in life".

Boards defend perks as a way to help bosses concentrate on their jobs and encourage them to stay in their jobs.

Most large US companies, such as health insurer Aetna, require that CEOs use corporate jets for personal trips, arguing that avoiding delays and ensuring the person's security outweigh the costs, reported The Washington Post.

Some businesses provide CEOs with cars and drivers for similar reasons.

Of the 200 highest-paid executives at publicly traded US companies, Aetna's Mr Mark Bertolini incurred the largest air-travel expense last year with US$602,781.

Vornado Realty Trust spent the most on a car and driver - US$272,290 for CEO Steven Roth.

These costs are scrutinised by shareholders who have become more attentive to excessive spending since investor votes on compensation for top managers were introduced in 2011.

As a result, many companies have cut back on perks for executives, a group that is viewed favourably by just 31 per cent of respondents in a recent Bloomberg National Poll.

Country-club memberships, an oft-derided perk, are still common in the oil-and-gas industry. They can help executives build ties in the community and, perhaps, encourage them to move to rural Texas or Oklahoma, far from urban centres.

Some companies consider club memberships essential to help executives keep clients and woo new ones, yet still disclose them as perks.

The perks come with a cost for executives.

All benefits that do not directly relate to the person's job and are not offered broadly to employees are considered taxable income and must be disclosed in regulatory filings as "All Other Compensation".

Of course, some companies pay for the tax bill too.

Relocation expenses, which can include private-school tuition for children, wind up in this category.

Defining what is related to someone's job can be tricky.

The Securities and Exchange Commission rebuked Facebook in 2015 for not disclosing the cost of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's personal-security programme, which the company deemed to be directly related to his job.

It spent US$4.89 million last year on keeping Mr Zuckerberg safe, the most among S&P 500 companies, and US$2.61 million on security for chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich was close behind with a security tab of US$2.13 million last year, up from US$39,600 a year earlier.

The chipmaker bolstered the programme after some senior executives received threats following an announcement that the company would focus on making its workforce more diverse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'CEOs' perks rub some the wrong way'. Print Edition | Subscribe