The corporate buddy system

Down on your luck, Bucko? Been fired and finding it hard to get rehired anywhere? Trying to make ends meet in the lean, mean, corporate '90s with only a few weeks' severance pay? Well that's because you're on the wrong end of the corporate ladder! If you were at the top, you could actually enjoy getting bounced. Look at John Walter from AT&T. He got fired in July after only nine months on the job, but you don't see him moping around. That's because Ma Bell put $26 million in his severance package. Plus, AT&T bought Walter's house from him for $3 million more. Likewise, Gilbert Amelio couldn't hack it after 17 months at Apple Computer but he still got a $7 million severance. Robert Greenhill's three-year tenure at Smith Barney ended with him securing a $22 million severance. Then there's Michael Ovitz's 14-month trip to Disney Inc., ending in a whopping severance of more than $90 million. New York Times writer Judith Dobrzynski calls it the "sweet smell of failure." One wonders: Where is the board of directors when these platinum payoffs are being lavished on departing executives? After all, these millions belong to the stockholders, and board members are sworn to protect their money. But guess who sits on the boards? Executives from other corporations, and their corporate buddy system has them scratching each other's backs! When chief executives retire, they don't fade away -- they tend to reappear on the boards of their buddies' companies, where they can be counted on to be generous to a fault. One survey found that 90 percent of retiring CEOs find their way onto at least one corporate board, where they're paid an average of $44,000 a year to be "yes men" to the companies' top executives. They say it's lonely at the top ... but not when you've got your buddies on board.


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