Every day, Michelle Leder and the crew at Footnoted.com comb through Securities and Exchange Commission filings in search of nuggets on executive pay, C-suite perks, and general corporate shenanigans. Every month she joins us to discuss the highlights and lowlights. February's crop includes a snake-bitten financial executive, an expose-worthy consulting deal at The New York Times Co., a rare bolt of candor and humility from Netflix, and fireman who are upset at Ralph Lauren.
His Name is Mudd. Literally. Daniel Mudd, son of the former NBC anchor Roger Mudd, enjoyed a soaring career in the finance field until a few years ago. He was the CEO of mortgage giant Fannie Mae until it went into federal conservatorship in the fall of 2008. Even though the company would require a massive bailout, Mudd walked away with a separation payment worth more than $9 million. Mudd quickly landed on his feet, as CEO of Fortress investment Group, the publicly held hedge fund/private-equity complex. (Fortress's stock has been a horrible performer over the last several years, as this long-term chart shows) Last December, Mudd and other former Fannie and Freddie executives were sued by the SEC over their role in the companies' meltdowns. Mudd took a leave of absence from Fortress to fight the charges and then several weeks later announced he was leaving Fortress for good. But he's not going away empty-handed. A disclosure in late February shows that Mudd will get an exit package worth about $16 million. Nice work if you can get it.
Here's to You, Ms. Robinson. Janet Robinson didn't have a particularly distinguished tenure as CEO of the New York Times Co. The stock lost about 80 percent of its value in her seven-year reign, which ended in December 2011. (Here's a five-year chart of the company's stock.) And many long-time employees were angered at the size of the 28-year company veteran's exit package, widely reported to be worth more than $20 million. The entire company has a market capitalization of about $1 billion. In late February, the company released details of Robinson's consulting agreement with the Times, which is sure to raise more hackles. The one-year deal, worth $4.5 million, notes that she "shall not be required to provide more than 15 hours of such services or assistance in any month." In other words, she has to provide a maximum of 180 hours of advice per year, which comes out to $25,000 per hour. All the compensation that's fit to print!
Netflix Eats Humble Pie. Typically, companies deal with colossal business screw-ups in a mix of jargon and legalese. After all, they frequently face litigation when something goes wrong. So executives can't afford to be too open in their formal disclosures.
But Netflix provided a refreshing counterexample. The company angered investors and customers alike by jacking up fees and effectively offering two separate plans for subscribers — one for through-the-mail DVD rentals and one for streaming video. (As the one-year chart shows, the stock is off nearly 70 percent since last July.) In its recently filed 10-K report, Netflix added a new risk factor: "If we are unable to continue to recover from the negative consumer reaction to our price change and other announcements made during the third quarter of 2011, our business will be adversely affected." Throughout the document, Netflix seemed to acknowledge directly that it had taken a hit from its recent decision. Last October, it had talked about the need to "reverse the negative consumer sentiment toward the brand." But now it's talking about the need to "repair the damage to our brand" — a rare statement for a public company to make.
Florida Firefighter vs. Ralph Lauren. A new front seems to have opened in the battle between the 99 percent and the one percent. The philo-aristocratic clothing company Ralph Lauren has enriched its founder and members of the Lauren family in many ways. While the stock has more than doubled over the past two years, as this chart shows, not all shareholders are pleased. In its most recently quarterly report, the company disclosed that the City Pension Fund for Firefighters and Police in Pembroke Pines, Fl. (motto: to Protect and Serve Your Retirement) has sued the company.
Why? The fund is angered by what it views as "permitting excessive compensation to, and alleged related party transactions with, the Company's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and certain other executives, and unjust enrichment by these executives." Of course, Ralph Lauren remains very much a family business. Ralph's brother, Jerome, and his son, David, both hold executive posts at the company and last year received seven-figure compensation packages.
Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance.
Follow him on Twitter @grossdm; email him at email@example.com.