Nothing but the best

For some CEOs, Md. is the land of really pleasant fringe benefits

April 22, 2007|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Columnist

Some say the age of company-paid golf memberships, vacations and financial advice is waning for corporate bigwigs. "You're actually seeing CEOs coming along saying, `Take my country club - please!' " says Steven Hall, a New York-based executive-compensation consultant.

If so, many local companies haven't heard.

Executive perquisites are alive and well in Maryland - especially in Towson, where Black & Decker CEO Nolan Archibald enjoyed club membership, a car and driver, personal use of company planes and other perks worth $584,374 last year, according to a recently filed proxy statement.

Newly required disclosures reveal a panorama of executive pay and fringes just as "the Hubble Telescope ... suddenly provided astronomers with clear views of distant galaxies," enthuses USA Today.

Actually, the view is from surplus binoculars peeping into homes we can't afford and won't be invited to. But we'll take it. Consider this column your pass into a gated community that is neatly edged with fringes worth many salaries of mere mortals.

Last year, responding to (more) ire over (still) growing executive compensation, the Securities and Exchange

Commission ordered publicly traded corporations to publish more-detailed perk information in their proxies.

Previously, companies had to say only if top bosses bagged more than $50,000 in perks, and they had to identify only the fattest. Now all perks must be described if the total value exceeds $10,000, and companies have to put a price tag on the big ones.

In Maryland, nobody puts more whipped cream on the CEO pay pie than Black & Decker, which ranks No. 356 on the Fortune list of America's largest corporations. The company paid for $437,317 worth of personal travel by Archibald and his family on company planes, says the proxy statement. You could fly first class to Los Angeles every day of the year and not spend that much.

Archibald also got a car and driver worth $68,553 for commuting and other business travel, plus an undisclosed allowance for a personal car.

Since he owns Black & Decker stock worth $18 million and got more than $9 million in salary, bonus and options last year, he could afford to pay for private car and plane trips.

However, "the perks are fairly standard for companies our size," said Black & Decker spokesman Roger Young. And, he said, letting the CEO fly on company planes for personal use predates Archibald at Black & Decker and lowers risk of terrorism and crashes. (A private plane is safer than commercial jets?)

Young declined to say where Archibald traveled or what clubs and athletic events the CEO is enjoying on the shareholders' dime.

Not every big corporation thinks it needs to dangle imperial perks to attract top executive talent.

"You can't even get a cell phone around here. You're talking about a company plane?" says Steve Norwitz, spokesman for T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore mutual fund concern and No. 914 in the Fortune 1000. (Executives do have company-bought BlackBerrys, he says.)

No Price executive got perks adding up to more than $10,000 last year, filings say. That's unusual when just an executive health plan and matching 401(k) funds can get you into five figures.

"The character of the company is one that's conservative and low-key, and we would not want to draw attention by providing some kind of ostentatious and unnecessary benefits," Norwitz said. "We're pretty well-compensated, and if there are benefits people want, they should buy it themselves."

Linthicum Heights-based Foundation Coal believes perks "should be kept to the lowest level possible," the proxy statement says. McCormick, the Sparks-based spice merchant and Fortune No. 692, offers perks such as financial advice and cars, "but they're really de minimis," says Robert Skelton, the company's general counsel. "It's really a product of our culture. We're a fairly conservative company."

At Constellation Energy, owner of Baltimore Gas and Electric and No. 119 on the Fortune list, perquisites are not de minimis. CEO Mayo Shattuck got fringes worth $214,344 last year. I know you're wondering, so I asked: Shattuck doesn't get free electricity, according to spokesman Lawrence McDonnell.

Constellation owns a part-interest in an airplane, but Shattuck doesn't use it for personal trips, says the proxy statement. The company also provides a car allowance and a home security system, and pays for his wife, Molly, to accompany him on business trips. But most Shattuck fringes (worth $133,010) involved travel to and from non-Constellation business meetings, McDonnell said.

My favorite non-Maryland perk is dispensed by Anheuser-Busch, where executives get "beer for personal use," according to the proxy. But bennies at Bethesda-based Marriott International are even better: free rooms, golf, food and drink at company hotels and other facilities, "to encourage executive officers to visit and personally evaluate our properties," says the company.

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