AT&T CEO declines bonus, breaks from predecessorFebruary 2, 2009: 1:41 PM ET
by Stephanie Mehta
Pattie Sellers recently blogged about good and bad corporate behavior. Here's another example to add to the "good form" category: AT&T chief Randall L. Stephenson is forgoing his 2008 bonus.
"I asked the board not to pay me a bonus for 2008, and they approved that request," Stephenson wrote in a memo to employees. "Given the economic environment, the workforce reductions, and our earnings outlook for 2009, I felt it was the right thing to do. We are a company that expects the highest performance and accountability, and that starts at the top."
AT&T in late January reported a 24% decline in fourth-quarter net income. The Dallas-based communications company managed to eke out a 2.4% gain in revenue to more than $31 billion.
The decision to give up his bonus is the latest example of how Stephenson, 48, differs from Ed Whitacre, his predecessor. Whitacre, who handed the reins to Stephenson in 2007, famously didn't use a computer at work, and he tended to be a man of few words. Stephenson is an avid technology user, and he's a lot more talkative than Whitacre.
Whitacre also unwittingly became a symbol of excessive CEO pay. Business writer Roger Lowenstein detailed Whitacre's pay in a scathing 2002 article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "Heads I Win, Tails I Win." The upshot of the article: Whitacre was a perfectly competent manager whose pay package - then valued at about $82 million - didn't reflect his performance as CEO.
Whitacre didn't particularly like being held up as a poster boy for CEO pay, but he didn't much change his ways, either. He continued to collect hefty paychecks despite criticism from shareholder advocacy groups. And he made headlines again in 2007 when the watchdogs at the Corporate Library pegged his retirement package at $158 million.
In Stephenson's memo to employees (in which he also disclosed that management and officers would not receive increases to their 2009 base salaries), he didn't say what his 2008 bonus would have been. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bonus typically makes up about a quarter of Stephenson's total comp - which last year included a $4.5 million bonus.