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Originally published Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 8:01 PM

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Locals sound off on proposed CEO pay-ratio disclosure

The SEC is hearing plenty from the public on a proposed rule requiring large publicly traded U.S. companies to disclose how the CEO’s pay compares to the average employee’s.


Seattle Times business staff

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The Securities and Exchange Commission is hearing plenty from the public — including Washington state residents — on a proposed rule requiring large publicly traded U.S. companies to disclose how the CEO’s pay compares to the average employee’s.

“It will tend to rein in out-of-control, inflated compensation for incompetent executives, and give the struggling middle class and working class useful information as consumers and voters,” one Seattle resident wrote to the commission. “It will also give investors valuable data about the company’s corporate culture.”

Many are skeptical. Wrote one Olympia resident, “Please fire whoever was in charge of getting this written, and go back and write an actual regulation.”

For decades, executive pay has ballooned even as large publicly traded corporations have had to disclose salaries, bonuses and perks.

GMI Ratings, a corporate governance research firm, said this year was the first time in 11 years of its study where the top 10 highest paid CEOs all made at least $100 million in compensation, including two who made more than $1 billion in a single year.

Since January 2011, shareholders have had the chance to cast an advisory vote on executive pay — the “say on pay” rule. The specter of a public rebuke has prompted some companies, including Bellevue-based Concur Technologies, to be more explicit about linking executive pay to corporate performance.

Some proxy advisory firms, large institutional investors and financial advisers back the proposed pay-ratio-disclosure rule as a good additional step.

It is “material information for investors,” said Laurie McClain, of Bellingham-based Socially Responsive Financial Advisors, in a letter to the SEC. “High pay disparities inside a company can hurt employee morale and productivity, and have a negative impact on a company’s overall performance.”

But just like CEO pay, regulators face a minefield of issues in deciding how companies should report the median pay — where half make more, half make less — of employees.

The proposed pay ratio, for example, would require firms to include compensation of employees in foreign countries.

Union pension funds support that. But some industry groups argue it’s a logistical nightmare and could conflict with privacy laws in other nations.

The SEC says companies can choose a reasonable method for calculating the median annual total compensation of employees, as long as it’s “briefly disclosed and consistently used.”

That drew a sharp response from a Redmond resident who wrote, “results would be so different from one corporation to the next as to be utterly useless for comparison purposes.”

Fred Whittlesey, a Seattle-based executive-pay consultant, agrees the pay ratio will be meaningless: The total pay that corporations report for their executives already is “hypothetical, speculative, and apples-and-oranges,” he said in an interview.

— Sanjay Bhatt: sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Microsoft raises matching funds in giving campaign

Each fall, Microsoft employees participate in the Giving Campaign, a monthlong series of events in which they focus on raising money for a variety of nonprofits.

Last year, during the Giving Campaign, which takes place in October, the company announced that in the 30-year history of the employee giving program, employees had raised $1 billion for more than 31,000 nonprofits worldwide.

That figure includes the company match, in which Microsoft matches what an employee gives, up to $12,000 per year.

This year, the company announced it’s upping its matching funds to $15,000 for each employee, and giving newly hired Microsoft employees a $50 donation to a nonprofit of their choosing.

While the employee giving program runs yearlong, the monthlong Giving Campaign features specific, usually fun, activities to raise money, including an annual auction, which this year raised $900,000 — up from last year’s auction total of $800,000.

Among this year’s Giving Campaign events:

• Guaranteed entry in the 2014 New York City Marathon, without having to qualify, along with a customized training program.

• Breakfast at Woodland Park Zoo with twin sloth bear cubs.

• Running the scoreboard for the Mariners at an upcoming game.

• Naming a Microsoft campus street after yourself. (Last year, Microsoft employee Damit Senanayake bid $1,573 to have the street named after himself. Senanayake Way will be renamed in this year’s winner’s honor, starting in 2014.)

• Personal Microsoft Shuttle Service for 2014, with the ability to book the shuttle ahead of time and not having to share it.

Microsoft plans to announce in February how much its employees raised throughout this year.

In the meantime, Microsoft’s human-resources director Lisa Brummel wrote in a blog post that employees are on track to beat last year’s donations.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com

Comments? Rami Grunbaum: 206-464-8541 or rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com



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