|Kenneth Feinberg acknowledged the difficulty of balancing ‘conflicting principles.’|
Executive pay cuts introduce worries
Specialists fear ‘brain drain’ at top companies
NEW YORK - The Obama administration’s decision to cut the pay of top executives at companies on taxpayer life support will help quiet the popular outrage over excessive compensation. But it introduces a new concern: brain drain.
The 175 executives targeted by “pay czar’’ Kenneth Feinberg are not only the highest paid but also considered among the most talented and productive. And competitors outside the restrictions are likely to woo them, recruiters and compensation experts say.
Losses like that could be devastating to the very companies the government spent so much money to save.
“These people are considered the brains of the machine. They are who can pull you through the tough times,’’ said Steven Hall, who runs an executive compensation firm that bears his name. “This will give them reason to leave.’’
Feinberg announced Thursday that he has ordered seven companies that have received billions of dollars in taxpayer money to slash the base salaries of their top executives by an average of 90 percent and cut total compensation - cash, stock and perks - in half.
That applies to the five top executives and the next 20 highest-paid employees at
Another 525 employees at the companies will also face new curbs on pay from Feinberg, but those details have not been released.
Those facing pay restrictions outside the executive suite hold leadership positions in areas like finance and investment banking at the banks, and in manufacturing, brand management, and design at the auto companies.
They come with years of experience, whether it’s making deals or overseeing car design. For example,
“There will be a fallout,’’ said Janice Reals Ellig, co-CEO of the executive search firm Chadick-Ellig. “Talent that is short-term-focused because they have big mortgages, college education payments, and other things will feel more pressure to leave.’’
A Bank of America spokesman, Scott Silvestri, said competitors not subject to pay restrictions “already are exploiting this situation by identifying our top performers and using pay concerns to recruit them away for fair market compensation.’’
Feinberg, in speaking engagements over the last month, acknowledged the difficulty of balancing “conflicting principles’’ on pay: Compensation needed to be high enough to attract talent without rewarding risk.
But he also has to deal with Americans angry that their tax dollars have been used to save these companies.