Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's Good to Be the King

Just when my faith in humanity was beginning to languish at a low ebb, due to the recent dust-ups surrounding the Blackstone IPO and the Bear Stearns hedge flush—and the utter failure of anyone in the Lynwood Jail to slip a shiv in between Paris Hilton's ribs—along comes The Wall Street Journal to save the day. I guess they got the word from Washington that they should stop beating up on big Republican campaign donors titans of finance and turn their focus back on Corporate America.

So, in dutiful fashion, they ran an article this weekend on the use of corporate jets by CEOs' spouses and other perks of the executive suite.
When Nicki Mulally wants to travel, she can usually hop on one of Ford Motor Co.'s Falcon twin-turbo jets.

The reason: She's married to Alan Mulally, Ford's chief executive.

To woo Mr. Mulally from Boeing Co. last fall, Ford promised that his wife, five children and guests could fly on corporate aircraft without him, as long as he authorizes the travel. Personal flights by Mr. Mulally and family members cost Ford $172,974 during his four months with the auto maker last year. A Ford spokesman declines to disclose the family-member and guest component of that sum.

The families of top corporate executives lead gilded lives, supported by multimillion-dollar paychecks and cushy perquisites. But many relatives of executives and directors get perks of their own. They enjoy trips, gifts, recreation, medical check-ups and product discounts -- all on the stockholders' tab. Some companies even cover the resulting tax bill.

Now, I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I detect a distinct whiff of disapproval in these words. I guess the WSJ takes umbrage at the fact that Mulally famille racked up forty-three grand a month in flight expenses on the company dime, even though Mulally père took home 28 large for the four months he spent on the job. They also seem to sniff at the fact that the spouses and children of senior execs at Nordstrom get a 33% discount on purchases at the company store, even though the rank and file only score a 20% break.

(Well, I guess this is just one more example of the occasionally bizzare split personality syndrome over at the Journal, which oscillates unpredictably between fawning adulation of miniature colossuses bestriding the financial markets and pursed-lip disapproval of the peccadilloes of their much taller CEO brethren.)

But I think the Journal has got it wrong. These CEO wives they so casually disrespect are really tireless servants in the cause of their husbands' companies. They crowd onto garish, gold-plated G V jets to join their husbands at all-expense-paid client entertainment events in Boca, even though they would much rather eat pretzels and read American Way magazine in the middle seat of an MD-80 on the way to visit Aunt Millie in Omaha. They bravely set their teeth and spend $75,000 a year at high end department stores—all in the name of unpaid market research—when they would much rather stay home and order inexpensive jewelry from QVC.

And if these spurs are not enough to persuade these matrons to sacrifice their values and principles, along comes the Chairman of the Board, who insists that Mrs. CEO and her brood fly privately in the interests of "security." By which, he usually means to keep a close eye on the Imperial Hubby, so he does not slip into dalliance with a comely private stewardess or eager young personal secretary. After all, anything which can prevent Acme, Inc.'s CEO from spending 50 hours a week in depositions with divorce lawyer Raoul Felder is definitely in the interest of shareholders.

So brush away a tear of thanks, and light a candle for those selfless CEO spouses, who upend their quiet, tidy lives for the oppressive swirl and glamour of Gulfstream jets and tax-free shopping sprees. They do it all in the name of love.

© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.