How intractable is CEO greed?

white persian cat in front of gold bars and coins wears a monocle

As horrible as the COVID-19 crisis is, it has brought out the best in the American people – the selflessness of front-line nurses and doctors, for example, as well as the generous community spirit of local food businesses. Yet, it has also amplified one of the worst character flaws in our society, namely the “me-first” greed of corporate chieftains.

Just last August, we were told that a new, more-democratic corporate ethic was emerging. The CEOs of 181 big-name giants signed a public pledge that henceforth they would run their corporations not solely to maximize shareholder profits but also to benefit workers, communities, and other economic “stakeholders.” Then, only five months later – BOOM! – the pandemic hit, profits dropped, and the new magnanimous spirit of togetherness vanished from those corporate board rooms. Immediately, masses of their workers were being punted out the door, health benefits were coldly terminated just when needed most, and the pledge to serve the common good went into the shredder.

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Well, retorted such pledge-signers as Arne Sorenson, CEO of the Marriott hotel empire, revenues are drying up, so all promises are negated. In a March video message dispatching most of Marriott’s employees, Sorenson cluelessly added this insult to their injury: “I wish you good health and a sense of optimism.”

A couple of weeks later, however, workers learned that while Marriott was cutting off their paychecks, it had doled out $160 million to its rich shareholders, a group that includes Sorenson.

In fairness, the CEO did say he’ll forego some of his million-dollar salary this year. But that’s a disingenuous show of solidarity, since he also gets some $11 million a year in incentive pay and other compensation. And, while workers are now consigned to the unemployment line, Sorenson is in line for a 7.7 percent pay hike next year, plus a multimillion-dollar cash bonus.

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