While TV viewers love to hear the words, "You're Fired," from Donald Trump, few would ever want to have that conversation with their own boss. That is, unless they are the boss and managed to negotiate a hefty separation package.
So-called golden parachutes are contractual provisions that compensate executives, if they are terminated without cause. And according to a first-of-its-kind report, the payout practice has guaranteed several outgoing chiefs with nine-figure landings to help soften the fall from their corner offices.
The biggest parachute according to GMI Ratings Report? More than $400 million awarded to Jack Welch, after he served as General Electric's CEO from 1981 to 2001. While Welch is widely credited with turning GE into a global conglomerate powerhouse, the report does not compare an executive's performance with the amount of their compensation. Rather, its authors say the purpose of the survey was to cast light on the amount of compensation that was awarded above and beyond the salary provided during the CEO's tenure.
'He [Jack Welch] was already paid for that performance, while he was acting as CEO. These parachutes are awarded after the fact, after they've left,' said Paul Hodgson. Hodgson helped gather data for GMI's report that included executive packages from 2000 until 2012. While the company has been gathering information on executive compensation since it was founded in 2000, this is the first time the findings have been published in a comprehensive report.
According to the study, 21 CEOs received more than $100 million each in "'walk away" packages. In all, companies like GE, Exxon Mobil Corp., AT&T and Home Depot Inc., have collectively provided nearly $4 billion in golden parachutes. But according to Hodgeson, those figures could be on the low-side.
'These numbers don't include the perks - the use of the corporate jet, the corner offices - a lot of the compensation that doesn't get listed on the public files.'
But despite the staggering amounts, golden parachutes serve a purpose when it comes to wooing a potential CEO to take the helm.
"The first thing someone asks is, 'What happens if I get fired because of a merger or the company gets sold?' These provisions compensate for taking that risk," said Bill Catucci, adjunct professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Business.
Catucci, a former CEO himself, explained that golden parachutes also encourage CEOs to act objectively when facing a decision that could ultimately lead to their termination. Some of the examples in the GMI Report include instances where CEO's elected to pull the cord on their golden parachute, after their companies either merged with or were acquired by other firms.
But is that worth $100 million?
Catucci concedes that not all cases are the same but that in many instances, the outgoing executive fulfilled their obligation as leader of the company while generating huge value for shareholders.
"Some of these CEO's that have increased a company's value by hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, they see these golden parachutes as justified."
21 CEOs over $100 million Company CEO Tenure Total Payout General Electric John F. Welch Jr. 1981-2001 $417,361,902 Exxon Mobil Corp. Lee R. Raymond 1993-2005 $320,599,861 UnitedHealth Group William D. McGuire 1991-2006 $285,996,009 AT&T Edward E. Whitacre Jr. 1990-2007 $230,048,463 Home Depot Inc. Robert L. Nardelli 2000-2007 $223,290,123 North Fork Bank John A. Kanas 1977-2006 $214,300,000 Merck & Co., Inc./Schering-Plough Fred Hassan 2003-2009 $189,352,324 IBM Louis V. Gerstner Jr. 1993-2002 $189,005,929 Pfizer Inc. Hank A. McKinnell Jr. 2001-2006 $188,329,553 CVS Caremark Corp. Thomas M. Ryan 1998-2011 $185,415,435 Gillette Co. James M. Kilts 2001-2005 $164,532,192 Target Corp. Robert J. Ulrich 1994-2008 $164,162,612 Merrill Lynch & Co. E. Stanley O'Neal 2002-2007 $161,500,000 U.S. Bancorp Jerry A. Grundhofer 2001-2006 $159,064,090 Omnicare, Inc. Joel F. Gemunder 2001-2010 $146,001,476 Wachovia/South Trust Wallace D. Malone Jr. 1981-2004 $125,292,818 United Technologies Corp. George A. L. David 1994-2008 $122,631,309 eBay Inc. Margaret C. Whitman 1998-2008 $120,427,360 WellPoint Health Leonard Schaeffer 1992-2004 $119,041,000 XTO Energy Inc. Bob R. Simpson 1986-2008 $103,485,972 Viacom Thomas E. Freston 2006 $100,839,772 (Source: GMI)