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The Golden Parachute Is Un-American

But if you fail to do the one thing they hired you to do -- i.e., earn money for the company -- why would you expect to be rewarded for it?
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The concept of the "golden parachute" -- where a big-time executive is given a generous bonus upon being relieved of his duties -- is a peculiar one. Consider: A company hires a renowned executive whose reputation and resume not only precede him, but require that the company pay him a multi-million dollar salary.

And of course, along with that mega-salary come some very envious perks: a limo to and from work, stock options, a generous vacation allotment, use of the company jet, membership in a swanky country club, free trombone lessons.

Why so rich a package? Simple answer: Because this guy is worth every penny of it. Because he's an acknowledged "rainmaker." Because he's shown he's capable of taking over a company in distress and turning it into a profitable entity, and of taking over a profitable company and turning it into a gold mine. In other words, he's a can't-miss, managerial genius.

Which is why it's so bizarre that this "genius" would insist on being given additional compensation when he's fired for incompetence. Fired for incompetence? At the very least, isn't that a bit pessimistic? Even more bizarre is why management would agree to those terms. Why would the same management team that agreed to hire this guy at an exorbitant salary agree to reward him for failing?

Consider: A man comes in and tells you he's the Messiah. He recites a long list of accomplishments and victories, and informs you that, because he's so damned talented, you're going to have to pay him millions of dollars a year just to keep him. And then, after you generously agree to his terms, he proceeds to tell you that he's going to need an additional $10 million as a going-away present after he fails.

For openers, wouldn't any self-confident, self-respecting executive with a sparkling track record treat his new position as one of those "win or lose" opportunities? After all, the company is already compensating you very generously, expecting you to succeed. And if you do succeed -- if you perform your job as expected -- they'll surely compensate you even more generously.

But if you fail to do the one thing they hired you to do -- i.e., earn money for the company -- why would you expect to be rewarded for it? Why on earth would you expect them to reward you for failing? That's not the American way. Why not just slink away with the millions of dollars you've already made, and write the whole thing off as an unfortunate mistake?

Golden parachutes remind me of pre-nuptial agreements. Consider: A man and woman fall in love. They are so much in love, they can't bear being out of each other's sight. And because they can't abide the thought of not living with each other for the rest of their natural lives, they decide to get married.

Then, after settling on the church, the guest list, the wedding dress, the cake, and where to go on their honeymoon, they sit down and discuss how to divvy up the money once they get divorced. Call me old-fashioned, but that sound very unromantic. And call me tight-fisted, but golden parachutes sound like con jobs.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at

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