NEW YORK – A $69.7 million compensation package and $98 million pension payout to Exxon Mobil Corp.'s (XOM) former chief executive and chairman Lee R. Raymond has some shareholders and economists asking, "how much is enough?"
"Some folks will ask the question, 'Is this more evidence of big oil taking an enormous windfall and retaining all the riches?"' said Mel Fugate, assistant professor for Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business.
The Irving company has drawn criticism from politicians and economists for becoming the most profitable company in history — at consumers' expense, they say.
Exxon benefited from high oil and natural gas prices and solid demand for refined products en route to earning $36 billion last year. The company has defended its profits, saying that other industries have larger profit margins but oil companies' bottom lines stand out because they operate on a much larger scale.
Recent news of Raymond's payout and pension is stoking embers Fugate said had been starting to die out. But with gasoline prices again reaching $3 a gallon at the pump in some areas and big oil companies about to report first-quarter earnings in coming weeks, expect more fallout, economists say.
On Wednesday, Exxon reported executive compensation in a regulatory filing that showed Raymond receiving $48.5 million in salary, bonuses, incentive payments and stock awards.
His compensation package also included $21.2 million from exercising stock options, which the company stopped awarding in 2001.
His $98 million pension payout reflects 43 years of service. But he would have received nearly $17 million less had he retired just last year, according to the company's 2005 proxy statement.
In this year's proxy statement, Exxon defended the package by saying it rewards Raymond's "outstanding leadership of the business, continued strengthening of our worldwide competitive position, and continuing progress toward achieving long-range strategic goals." Raymond had been CEO since 1993 before stepping down at the end of last year.
Fugate, who specializes in executive compensation and management, said Exxon is sending a "very, very bad signal" by allowing Raymond to select the lump-sum payout.
"They are in very, very rich times, so on one hand they say, 'we can afford it,' but on the other hand they are taking an awful lot of heat because they've made too much at the expense of consumers. I'm surprised they are not being asked to justify that."
They will be at the company's shareholders meeting in Dallas on May 31. Several shareholders have placed resolutions on the agenda that, if passed, would put the clamps on some executive pay.
Shareholder Emil Rossi, author of one of the resolutions, says that although he's done well as a longtime owner of Exxon stock, he believes the executives are keeping too much for themselves.
"(Raymond) took over a good company," said Rossi, of Boonville, Calif. "He didn't bring it out from being a bad company, so his pay is clean out of reason. It's not because of his smartness."
Twice since November, big oil executives, including Raymond before his retirement, sat in Senate hearings defending their profits and deflecting accusations of gouging.