DEANS OF BUSINESS

In defense of the ‘fat cat’ CEOs

Posted Aug. 05, 2011, at 3:44 p.m.

Well, here we go again. Washington back on the attack, from the halls of Congress to the White House lawn, chastising, criticizing and categorically crucifying those “fat cat” CEOs and corporate America. In spite of these political proclamations, most CEOs are honest, hardworking individuals who contribute much to their employees and community.

CEOs certainly are not all knights in shining armor. In every profession, we can find examples of those who have tarnished their profession, vocation and example of leadership. Unlike those who live off your taxes, CEOs in general earn every dollar they are paid. Let me explain how this statement can be supported.

Most work extraordinarily hard to grow revenue and produce profits for their companies and shareholders. In doing so, they not only retain jobs for existing employees (fathers and mothers who need to support their families), but also often create new jobs for others. Most dedicate the best part of their lives to their jobs. Most are honest, have good habits and are ethical. Most work under extreme pressure and constant threats from competitors as well as recurrent changes in direction from their respective boards of directors.

Most CEOs are the ones who accept the consequences of others’ failures, particularly when these failures affect the bottom line. Most sacrifice personal and family time for their companies. Most give their best ideas, creativity and abilities to their companies. Most live their work life — and often personal life — in a fishbowl with predators inside and out waiting for an opportunity to hurt their efforts, capitalize on their mistakes or bring them and their companies into litigation.

Most are confronted with a variety of crises that require extraordinary management. Most must terminate employees, painfully aware that this will not only affect the individual, but their family as well. And most must ultimately accept the blame and consequences when anything major goes wrong in their organizations. Most have nice surroundings and the related benefits that come with the job. However, most have nowhere near the perks of the president of the United States or of U.S. Congress.

Most also get up every morning at 5 a.m. and, when not committed to travel or dinner meetings, usually get home after 7 p.m., and often after dinner. Most are usually tired but still sit down and read a stack of papers to get ready for the next day. Those papers involve revenue and profits, forecasts, human resource problems, competitive threats, requests for contributions from charitable organizations, contracts and legal documents and so on — and all have deadlines.

There is always pressure. People who have to be called or last-minute trips. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners with distributors, suppliers, customers, agencies or other management. Yes, most receive a good salary, bonuses and company stock for their hard efforts. Most use this compensation to provide for their family, contribute to their church and help others through a variety of charities.

This brings me to why I believe CEOs are worth every dollar they are paid. Reading the donor reports of charities in Maine and every other state reveals that corporate America and its CEOs are at the top of the giving list. Reading the gift list to Maine colleges and schools shows that hundreds of scholarships and other gifts are provided by the same generous corporate America its CEOs. The same CEOs who work under pressure for 12-16 hours a day. The CEOs presenting to their board, responding to shareholders, answering analysts’ questions, responding to the latest lawsuit and managing the multimillion- or multibillion-dollar enterprise.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention that CEOs no longer have their jobs if they miss their goals, lose investors’ confidence or have a competitor take market share.

Why is the environment so negative toward those who are most productive? Why must a hardworking individual have to defend his or her work ethic to someone who has little work ethic themselves or whose attacks are politically motivated?

Granted, we live in a cynical society, but not everyone should be categorized in the negative because they work hard, have values and earn a lot of money. These same CEOs and their companies pay most of the taxes, give back substantially to their communities, contribute much to many charities and help every individual and family on their respective payrolls. It is time to stop yet another attack on our wonderful free-enterprise system and most economically successful society in the world.

Ronald A. Nykiel, dean of the College of Business at Husson University, has a number of books on travel and tourism marketing. He also has worked for five CEOs, been a senior officer in four corporations, served as an administrator in higher education, co-chaired a Governor’s Revenue Forecasting task force and served as a consultant to the Presidential Commission on Executive Interchange.

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