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Fight the executive-comp greed factor

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in HR Management,Human Resources

During his drive upward from union clerk to New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) chairman, Dick Grasso showed extraordinary ability as a marketer, salesman, relationship manager and infighter. He ran the place behind figureheads, and once he nailed the top job, many agree that he did a great job ... despite his bullying nature.

“We loved this guy,” says Ken Langone, who used to head up the exchange’s compensation committee. “In all the years I was on the board, in every evaluation, I never heard one negative comment about Dick Grasso’s performance. You would have thought they were talking about the Second Coming of Christ.”

But Grasso let greed get in his way. Starting in 1995 with an “empty piggybank,” he amassed $140 million in retirement benefits and bonuses that he tried to flush out of the Exchange... before a new set of directors clamped down on the payout. Unluckily for him and luckily for the NYSE, the public’s mood soured on corporate greed.

If Grasso’s case ever goes to trial, it will be ugly. That’s because the same pit bull mentality that took Grasso from clerk to tycoon also brought him down.

“It’s a Shakespearean tragedy," says Larry Fink, a former member of the stock exchange compensation committee. “You don’t learn this in business school. You learn this in English class.”

What can we learn from Dick Grasso about recognizing and stopping our own greedy tendencies
  • 1. Use executive pay packages in your sector as benchmarks for your compensation, but also use commonsense and fair play.
  • 2. When someone questions company practices that you or a few others benefit from personally, pay attention.
— Adapted from “The Fall of the House of Grasso,” Peter Elkind, Fortune.

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