CEOs are slashing their executive pay to make a ‘visible personal sacrifice’

April 2, 2020, 10:41 AM UTC

Good morning.

This is Katherine, filling in for Alan from London.

Yesterday, my colleague Emma Hinchliffe wrote about CEOs slashing their pay—usually to zero—in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

The CEOs that have gone first, she points out, are ones that lead companies that have taken a direct, and early, economic hit—businesses, like tourism and hospitality, that have had to lay off or furlough hundreds of thousands of employees. Marriott, for example, and Hyatt. (If you missed CEO Mark Hoplamazian speaking to Fortune‘s Susie Gharib about this earlier this week, that interview is here.)

But companies that rely on staff or contractors putting themselves at particular risk—Lyft, for example—or those that work in media and entertainment—like Disney—have also been early movers, as have those that may seek government help.

The question of whether it makes a difference is a thornier one. Most executive pay comes in the form of stock options, so dropping a base salary may not require an executive to take a lasting financial hit. And in most large companies, even the CEO’s salary won’t make much difference in plugging the gap caused by the fall-out from coronavirus.

But sometimes optics aren’t just, well, optics. Last year, I spoke to Paul Collier, a professor at Oxford and author of the book The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties, for our series on the ideas that will shape the next decade. He warned of lagging trust in executives, and made the case that even in times of relative stability, true leadership by a CEO requires making a “visible personal sacrifice”—including taking a pay cut.

Or as Michael Useem, a professor of management at the Wharton School, told Emma:

“People have long memories when it comes to what you did in a crisis,” he said. “Did you step forward, or did you refuse to help out?”

More news below.

Katherine Dunn


First shale bankruptcy 

The shale sector has already seen its first major casualty of the coronavirus/price war double hit: Whiting Petroleum has filed for bankruptcy protection, the first large independent producer to do so. The company was facing a $262 million payment on a convertible bond, due on Wednesday. At current prices, Whiting is expected to be the first of many, with high debt levels leaving independent shale producers particularly vulnerable. FT

Remember WeWork? 

SoftBank Group has scrapped a deal to spend $3 billion to buy WeWork stock from former CEO Adam Neumann and other shareholders in the coworking space company, which it had agreed to as a bailout package following the company's botched IPO attempt. SoftBank said it was dropping the deal because several conditions had not been met, despite legal threats from some board members. Bloomberg

Boeing buyouts

Boeing was already struggling. But as coronavirus has hit the airline industry, the company has begun offering early retirement and buyout packages to its workforce, following many of its airline customers who have been forced to lay off or furlough large numbers of staff. Despite suspending production of its 737 Max jet earlier this year, the Chicago-based plane maker hadn't previously announced layoffs. WSJ 

Manufacturing contracts

March marked a clear contraction for American manufacturing—The Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) came in at 49.1% in March, down from 50.1% in February. But it wasn't a one-off: manufacturing had already been in a lull: March marked the sixth month of contraction over the last 12 months, the worst stretch since 2009. Fortune 


T-Mobil CEO speaks 

Speaking after the successful $26 billion merger of T-Mobil and Sprint, Mike Sievert, the company's new CEO, spoke to Fortune's Aaron Pressman, and he talked a big game, saying the company has the potential to become "Number 1." Sievert will bring a different style to the role than his predecessor, notes Pressman, suggesting telecom watchers should expect more of a "suburban dad vibe." Fortune 

Google helping Google 

Lest Google's recent announcement of $340 million in ad credits to small and medium size businesses seem overly generous, remember: those same companies account for about half of Google's ad revenues—or the equivalent of $55 billion for the company last year. But the company is just one tech giant extending financial help that benefits customers it relies on. Fortune

'Hackers without conscience' 

Healthcare providers and medical labs in U.S. and Europe are seeing a surge of cyberattacks, even as they struggle to cope with the spread of coronavirus. Many of those in Europe have been linked to an organized crime syndicate that uses the ransomware Maze, but cyber attacks overall have increased. Bloomberg 

Food to order

To survive the shutdown of hotels and restaurants, some high-end food suppliers are turning to the consumer delivery market—for the first time. In Chesapeake Bay, Orchard Point Oyster Co. is offering harvested-to-order oysters; while Marx Foods started delivering ground bison and Iberico pork. They're hoping it'll help them survive—barely. One benefit: now, households are ordering in bulk. Fortune 

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn

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