As companies even remotely connected with the sagging U.S. real estate market pile up losses, shareholders and activist groups are again asking whether company executives are overpaid for poor performance. To be sure, the housing downturn can not be blamed on any one executive, or even group of executives. But when big losses were disclosed by Wall Street investment banks, high-profile CEO heads started rolling, including those of Merrill Lynch's Stanley O'Neal and Citigroup's Charles Prince.
So far, the downturn has claimed only one big builder CEO, Stephen Scarborough of Standard Pacific, and his departure was reported by the company as a "retirement." KB Home's Bruce Karatz also "retired" after an internal investigation revealed that some of his stock option grants had been backdated.
Activist shareholders, in some cases representing union members, have begun forcing the public home building companies to examine their executive compensation policies and practices. Change to Win Investment Group, one such union-affiliated dissident, has targeted the compensation committee of the Ryland Group board in its efforts to convince shareholders to agree to cut executive compensation. Similar efforts by dissident shareholders have been directed at Lennar, Standard Pacific and Pulte.
It must be noted, however, that much stock-based compensation is based on a stock price "when issued," which can be a far different number from what stock is worth when it is exercised, as the Internal Revenue Service knows quite well. It is often these transactions that cause the biggest uproar among activists, because they are the forms of compensation that often result in tens or even hundreds of millions in profits. But the rise in the stock is based on the performance of the company and thus the executives.
Following is a look at the compensation packages for top executives at the major public home building companies for 2006 and 2007 as well as the financial performace of those companies expressed in terms of net income or loss, the primary measure of a company's performance under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. It is intended as a companion to the Big Builder2008 Public Builder Report Card, which rates 17 public home building companies on their financial performance.