HIGHTOWER: CEOs Living 'La Vida Loca'

What goes up, must come down, right?

Well . . . not if you're the high-flying CEO of a major corporation. Defying the laws of nature--and of common sense--your pay package just keeps soaring, even when the fortunes of the company you head are sinking like the Titantic.

Check out Bank One, the Chicago-based megabank that, under CEO John McCoy, went on a merger spree in the nineties, spreading far and wide and becoming the nation's fourth largest banking empire. But bigger does not mean better, and McCoy's bank suffered debt overload and profit problems. So who paid the price for McCoy's mistakes? Bank One has recently announced that 5,100 employees will get pink slips.

McCoy is gone, too, but instead of a pink slip, he got a green slip. His board of directors patted him on the butt with a severance package of $10.3 million, plus a pension of $3 million a year for the rest of his life.

Then there's Geoffrey Bible, chief poobah at Philip Morris. Ninety-nine was a bad year for the smoke, beer, and food giant, and its stock price plummeted by more than half. So, did Bible take a hicky, along with other shareholders? No, no, Pollyanna. Even though his pay is largely attached to the stock price, his board of directors doctored the deal so he would come out ahead--a 17 percent salary increase, a 26 percent hike in bonus, a "special incentive award, and a gift of stock worth $6.5 million.

But the sneakiest CEO might be Edward Muller, head of Edison Mission Energy. The Wall Street Journal reports that he recently resigned without explanation, after the stock of his company fell into the doldrums. But lo and behold, Muller got a $35 million bonanza from a "phantom stock" that was available only to top executives.

This is Jim Hightower saying . . . It might be lonely at the top . . . but it's lucrative, no matter what kind of job you do.

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