HIGHTOWER: Pampering Corporate Directors

You've eaten "Hushpuppies," haven't you -- those little fried balls of cornmeal served with catfish? These tasty bites were first made by cooks on overnight hunting trips -- they tossed them to the hound-dogs to "Hush-up" their yelping.Today, top executives of America's biggest corporations have become "Hushpuppy" specialists, cooking-up all kinds of goodies to "Hush-up" their own Boards of Directors. You see, the corporate board is supposed to be a hard-nosed watchdog, yelping whenever management gets out-of-line. But too many boards have become executive lapdogs, way too pampered to bark at -- much less bite -- the hand that feeds them.And these board members are fed a much richer dough than cornmeal. In a survey of America's largest 200 industrial firms, Forbes magazine found they were paying their directors an average of $700 AN HOUR for their "watchdog" role. That'll make a mighty big "Hushpuppy," won1t it?At IBM, board members are paid $91,000 a year; $132,000 at GE . . . and all-the-way-up to $274,000 at Compaq Computer. Just for a few day's work. Plus, seventy percent of the companies pay lavish pensions, many worth 40-50-100,000 a year. And it's not uncommon for directors to get free medical and dental coverage . . . for life!And if that's not enough to keep a board member fat and sleepy, companies also toss-out other tasty tidbits. For example, General Motors' directors get a new Cadillac every three months; and United Airlines provides unlimited first-class travel for its directors and their spouses.Aside from these paychecks, pensions and perks being an obvious conflict-of-interest for directors, every dollar spent on them is treated as a tax-deductible cost of business for the corporation, meaning you and I subsidize this corporate extravagance. Now that's really something to howl about.Sources:Forbes-May 22, 1995 USA Today-May 9, 1995

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