My friend, sportscaster Len Berman, got the news this past week that he was being let go from WNBC. Len is one of the most talented personalities I know. He’s been a fixture in New York sports for decades. He is witty and well respected. I actually stop what I’m doing when his “Spanning the World” segment comes on during the Today Show. Len is another casualty in broadcasting’s purge of talent as executives grapple with declining viewership and revenues. It’s time to reinvent the wheel and there’s little room for high priced anchors in this economic reality. So those we’ve come to know, love and trust are being shown the door and the industry is diminished for it. For his part, Len is taking this well. He knows he will have a bright afterlife.
ABC and the Walt Disney Company have also made painful cuts. This past week an announcement was made that 1900 people were being being laid off in the theme parks. This is following cuts of 5% at ABC and here is the headline that I’m burying. CEO Robert Iger made $51.1 million in compensation in 2008. He is one of the top paid CEO’s in America. His cash bonus alone was over $13 million (in his defense he did give up a $2.4 million bonus related to sharholder return.) His compensation from 2007 to 2008 is up 85% even though the net income of his company is down 5%, the total return is down 10% and shares dipped 34% in the fiscal year ending September 2008. From what I calculate he jumped from #81 to #3 on the list of highly compensated executives. There is no doubt Iger is a brilliant businessman and that shareholders believe he is worth every penny and there is a contract but perception is perception.
In February, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt (GE owns NBC) convinced the board that it was not appropriate for him to earn his hefty bonus for 2008 and his $11.7 million compensation when the company was having so many financial difficulties. He told the Wall Street Journal, “My compensation is never going to be an embarrassment to GE. … It’s going to be responsible; it’s going to be appropriate; it’s going to be transparent; and it’s going to reflect the financial performance of the company.” It doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept the lay off of my friend, Len Berman, but at least I know Immelt is leading by example. Wouldn’t it be amazing if more CEO’s lived by the example of Jeff Immelt or better yet, of Jack Windolf of Bollinger Insurance, who took $500,000 of deferred compensation and gave each of his 434 employees a thousand dollar bonus. He called it a mini economic stimulus package. Largesse not layoffs.
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