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Columns

Executives are a little less perky these days

By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published March 2, 2008


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Pssst. ... Progress Energy's top nine executives and spouses better hurry and enjoy their company-provided car allowances, free country club memberships, personal travel on corporate aircraft, free airline club memberships and free tickets to events unrelated to business.

Come April 1 - fittingly April Fool's Day - it's all going away.

Talk about bucking the more-for-me-is-better trend. While most of Corporate America's boardroom elites enjoy abundant perks, Progress Energy has decided to trim some of the excesses from its pot of senior corporate freebies. The matter-of-fact cutbacks were made public last week in a short regulatory filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Kudos to the honchos that deliver to many of us our electricity. But shed no tears. Progress Energy -the North Carolina parent of Progress Energy Florida of St. Petersburg - still plans to pay for executives' financial and estate planning and tax preparation services; luncheon and health club dues; executive physicals; Internet and telecommunication access including a company-owned computer at home; accidental death and dismemberment insurance; and - last but hardly least - home security.

It's annual shareholder season, which means executive perks and compensation are about to receive their annual scrutiny by investors in public companies. Most shareholders are content to let CEOs collect their hefty pay and perk packages, at least as long as a company's stock price is pleasing.

But too often there is little link between executive pay and performance. And sometimes little link between executive perks and reality.

There ought to be a law ... .

One of my favorite Web sites for monitoring corporate self-indulgence is called Footnoted (www.footnoted.org), which happens to be run by a former Florida newspaper reporter named Michelle Leder. Here's just one recent sampling of her digging through public filings of Jacksonville railroad and transportation giant CSX.

It seems CSX recently disclosed for the first time that 156 of its top executives get 50 percent discounts at the CSX-owned Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where rates for a "standard room" start at around $424. In the filing, the company notes that the perk is "not to exceed $10,000."

Nice work if you can get it.

Corporations increasingly are required to disclose to shareholders the details of their top executives' pay and perks, and this year will be no different. One specialty newsletter called Security Director's Report recently compiled a list of some of the nation's top CEOs and the cost (paid by their companies) of their security "perks" - especially home alarm services.

Tech company IBM spent $53,409 for personal and home security, plus $373,187 on transportation, for CEO Sam Palmisano. Computer maker Dell spent more than $1-million on transportation and personal/home security for CEO Michael Dell. And software maker Oracle committed $1.7-million for transportation and personal/home security services to protect billionaire CEO Larry Ellison.

All of this brings us back to Progress Energy, whose perk trimmings this April now seem all the more unusual.

In May, a Tampa shareholder asked Bob McGehee - then the CEO of Progress Energy - why the energy company's executives enjoyed perks that even extended to getting their cars washed for free while parked at work. McGehee, who passed away last year, politely dodged the question at the time.

But someone apparently was paying attention. Progress Energy eliminated free car washes as a perk for its executives. Hardly a sweeping victory for cost-conscious investors, but in this case, one small message was sent and received.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com  or (727) 893-8405.

[Last modified March 2, 2008, 01:19:55]


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