So would you? Kill someone for $ 100 million? What about $10 million? If you’ve had to think about either of those figures, here’s a joke from Winston Churchill:
Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”
Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… ”
Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price
Now, I’m not actually offering anyone a large sum to kill someone – or to sleep with me. Instead I’m just trying to gain perspective on the outlandish sums being paid to the world’s top CEOs. A recently compiled list of the salaries, bonuses and shareholdings of the CEOs for the Dow Jones top 30 companies shows that the average annual pay-packet of a Dow30 CEO is $19.4 million.
What would you do for $20 million? or $84 million in the case of Microsoft’s boss Satya Nadella? Now consider that it’s an annual sum, if you keep the company performing well then you might make that sum for 8 years or more (average start date for those CEOs, 26/01/2008) which is a cool $160 million on average – look down on $ 100 million!
OK, even for that money, when it came to the crunch, a lot of people would balk at the prospect of pulling the trigger in person, splattering the brains of a business rival all over the tiles of their poolhouse in their 6th home in Santa Barbara… probably. I mean, post-Cold War Russian oligarchs would probably do that, or post-Mao Chinese tycoons, but soft American or European business leaders? Well, not all of them.
But what if it wasn’t as up close and personal as garrotting someone with your $1/4 million Gucci belt? What if it was simply a case of not fully investigating your supply chain and perpetuating modern day slavery in products as diverse as coffee to the components of your smartphone. Even when forced labourers aren’t murdered, they just don’t live as long as other folks, although in the case of conflict minerals, the electronics industry was directly profiting from systems of rape and murder used to control labour and materials.
Other things that might be worth $100 million could be continuing with devastating destruction of the rainforest to harvest cheap palm oil; to fund campaigns to deny climate change so you can keep selling your products; or perform unethical clinical trials in Nigeria, or deadly unethical clinical trials in South America; or perhaps you would just avoid paying tax, driving developed countries into life threatening austerity or even leading to the deaths of 5.6 million children, mostly in developing countries.
In truth, there are numerous ways that large corporations led by excessively paid executives have negligently or knowingly acted to kill people en mass. But, especially in the USA, it is often considered a legal requirement to maximise profits for shareholders, and CEOs could be stripped of their title and all their potential earnings if they don’t pursue the most ruthless course.
What would you do if faced with a choice like that? What could you justify to keep $ 100 million? Are excessive salaries encouraging the leaders of corporations to resist change and to do evil?