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2011′s Executive Compensation Highlights and Lowlights

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While it may not have been the best year for investors, 2011 was a pretty good year for America's top executives, many of whom took home rich pay packages and perks. Each month, Michelle Leder of Footnoted.com joins the Daily Ticker to discuss the salacious details her crew picks out of the pile of Securities and Exchange Commission filings. We asked her to put together the top five executive compensation items from 2011.

With no further ado, we present the top five executive compensation outrages of 2011.

5. What the MF? Jon Corzine, former Goldman Sachs top dog, former Senator, former New Jersey Governor, was already a very rich man before he joined financial services firm MF Global as CEO. But he aimed to increase his fortune further by having MF Global put on insanely leveraged trades on European sovereign debt. The trades, of course, blew up in his face, plunged MF Global into bankruptcy, and have launched a slew of investigations. As Leder point outs, it's possible that Corzine's attention in the spring of 2011 was somewhat diverted. As a filing detailed, Corzine was spending time. . . . renegotiating his compensation package. Months before the company blew up, MF Global agreed to pay Corzine a $1.5 million retention bonus on March 31, 2014 (or whenever he left the job), provided he didn't quit without a good reason or get fired for cause. And, Footnoted.com noted, a broadly written escape clause would have allowed him to receive at least partial payment if he quite without 'good reason.' If only Corzine had paid as much attention to the billions of dollars MF was handling as he was to the paltry million or so he was haggling over.

4. You Can Go Home Again. As CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Leo Apotheker was spectacularly unsuccessful. The former CEO of German software giant SAP joined H-P in November 2010, and crashed out ten months later. After presiding over three quarters of disappointing results, controversial decisions, and a falling stock, Apotheker was sent back to Europe. But in the type of deal that is as pathetic as it is typical, Apotheker was richly rewarded for his failure with a ton of money. The $25 million package included $7.2 million in severance, a $2.4 million bonus, and shares awarded for performance. Oh, and because CEOs should never be expected to pay for their own travel, he was given cash to pay for relocation to France, Belgium, or somewhere else in Europe.

3. Leading on a Jet Plane. Bob Pittman, the head of Clear Channel's media business, knows a lot about music. He was a founder of MTV and the former head of AOL. So presumably he'll get the clever reference to the Peter, Paul, and Mary song. But Pittman seems to know — or care — as much about aviation as he does about content. When Pittman hired on, Clear Channel said it would provide him with a fancy Dassault-Breguet Mystere Falcon 900 for personal and business use. Then, the company disclosed that it would pay $3 million to lease a jet for Pittman's use — from a company owned by. . . . Pittman. The name of the leasing company: Yet Again.

2. Chesapeake's Mapquest.In May 2009, Chesapeake Energy spent $12.1 million of shareholders' cash to purchase an antique map collection owned by Aubrey McClendon, the company's chairman and chief executive officer. The company said the map collection added to the natural beauty of the firm's corporate campus and fit in with its history of exploration of oil and gas. But the move was really aimed at bailing out the CEO. McClendon had gotten into trouble by putting up his shares in the company as collateral for other debt, and in 2008 faced significant margin calls. Shareholders sued, and as part of the settlement, announced in November, McClendon agreed to buy back the maps for $12.1 million, plus interest. (Note: the interest charged is only 2.28 percent.) The company also agreed that it wouldn't reimburse McClendon for the deal, and that it would pay $3.75 million to cover plaintiffs' legal fees.

1. Howdy, Nabors! Nabors Industries is a mid-sized energy exploration and production company. But when it comes to executive compensation, it's a titan. Long-serving CEO, Eugene Isenberg has long been a compensation champ. Use by company executives of private jets was covered by Mark Maremont in the Wall Street Journal in June and has led to an SEC investigation. On a Friday night in late October, Nabors disclosed that Isenberg, who had been CEO since 1987, was stepping down and would be replaced. The punch line Nabors announced it "intends to record a $100 million contingent liability, to be reflected in its fourth-quarter results and year-end financial statements, in light of provisions in Mr. Isenberg's employment agreement." Most employees are pleased if they can their long-time employer with an intact pension and a gold watch. Isenberg left with $100 million. That nice round sum, combined with the company's long history of excessive compensation and the weasel-like decision to push the release out on a Friday night lands Nabors in the top spot for 2011.

Join us next year -- and check out Footnoted.com daily -- for more disclosures.

Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance

follow him on twitter @grossdm; email him at grossdaniel11@yahoo.com

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