Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jet Setting

Of the 4500 or so airports in the United States, the major airlines only service about 10% of them. Security concerns have also made passenger airplane travel a time-consuming endeavor. As such, for some companies it's quite likely that a business case can be made for the purchase of a corporate jet (though not always).

But increasingly, executives have begun to make personal use of the corporate jet, for which no business case can be made.


This is a veiled attempt at increasing compensation, without the appearance of doing so. In some cases, an executive's personal (i.e. non-business related activities) use of the company jet costs the company more than his entire salary! In most of these cases, the company will also issue a bonus to the executive to cover his related tax bill!

A strong corporate governance process is of vital importance to shareholders looking to maximize their returns. Shareholders can get clues as to the quality of a company's corporate governance by examining the company's behaviour when it comes to items like corporate jets.

For example, consider Abercrombie and Fitch, a company we discussed last year as one that re-affirmed its strategy, only to seemingly change it a few weeks later. The company and its CEO recently entered an agreement whereby the CEO was limited to keeping his personal use of the company jet to $200,000 per year. This still seems fairly generous, as $200K for vacation travel in a year does seem rather excessive, but at least it's capped at something, right?

Unfortunately, in return for signing this agreement, the CEO was provided $4 million in cash! This makes you wonder...how much personal use of the jet was he getting before this agreement? A significant amount, if this payment for the $200K cap is any indication. His base salary is just $1.5 million, meaning his use of the corporate jet was a significant perk!

Managers will always try to glean what they can from the company kitty. It's human nature, and so they can hardly be blamed in the aggregate. But as a result, the importance of a governance structure that protects shareholders is instrumental, so that the managers are working for, rather than against, the shareholders. Frivolous use of company property should be a clear sign to shareholders that all isn't right with a company's governance structure, and so they may wish to avoid such companies.

Disclosure: Author has no corporate jet, and reserves the right to change his mind should his company acquire one.

This article was written by Saj Karsan of Barel Karsan. If you enjoyed this article, please vote for it by clicking the Buzz Up! button below.

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