In 2010, people cheered when Congress gave shareholders the right to vote on the pay of corporate CEOs. Too bad those nonbinding votes haven't embarrassed the greed out of the chief executives. In fact, CEO pay crept up another 5 percent last year, once again far outstripping wage gains for middle-class workers.
While some CEOs, such as GE's Jeffrey Immelt, took a modest pay cut in 2011, many continued drawing outsized checks. Here we list 10 of the most egregiously overcompensated executives. They're selected not just on the size of their pay packages, but how much more they were paid than their peers at similar companies, as well as the disparity between their personal fortunes and those of their employer. Collectively, they highlight the cozy relationships between today's corporate boards and their chief executives. "You don't suggest [corporate compensation] consultants who are Dobermans," Warren Buffet, a critic of excessive CEO salaries, quipped in this YouTube clip. "You get cocker spaniels and make sure that their tails are wagging."
Timothy D. Cook, Apple Compensation: $378 million Corporate profits (2010-11): +85% Stock gain/loss (2010-11): +34%
With twin 2,520-horsepower engines and up to 19 seats, the Sikorsky S-92 is among the world's most powerful civilian helicopters. "Helibuses" typically service offshore oil platforms and the like, but two years ago billionaire industrialist Ira Rennert acquired a posh version to shuttle himself between Manhattan and Long Island's exclusive Hamptons, where he owns a 63-acre, 110,000-square-foot villa complex. One of the first to notice the giant bird was Frank Dalene, founder and CEO of a successful luxury homebuilding company, who lives on a ridge along Rennert's flight path. Its whumping rotor was like "a lightning bolt striking nearby," says Dalene, a fast-talking 58-year-old with a long nose and narrow-set eyes. He blames the vibrations for "literally damaging my home."
Dalene and his neighbors near the East Hampton Airport might have abided Rennert's choppers—he owns two—had they been an anomaly. But the situation has become intolerable over the past few years, Dalene says, thanks to a whirlybird craze among the investment bankers and hedge fund gurus who weekend in Sagaponack and Southampton. On Friday afternoons the tiny airport is a beehive. Come summer, some CEOs commute daily between their beach chalets and Manhattan's East 34th Street Heliport. "They don't give a crap about nobody," Dalene gripes.
Last year, he founded the Quiet Skies Coalition, an anti-helicopter group that has become one of the most potent political forces in the Hamptons. Its wealthy members north of the Montauk Highway launched what Dalene describes as a "knock-down, drag-out battle" against "ultra-wealthy" helicopter owners who largely live on the south side, accusing them of shattering the island's tranquillity, contributing to climate change, and poisoning the air with leaded fuel. "I am beginning to think Mr. Rennert is practicing class warfare," Dalene wrote Rennert's Manhattan secretary in an email that likened the noise assaults to "throwing their garbage on the other side of the tracks for us poor folks to live with."
Two years ago, the renowned graffiti artist Revok moved from LA to Detroit. Josh Harkinson"Warning! This city is infested by crackheads. Secure your belongings and pray for your life." So reads a hand-scrawled sign just off I-75 in Detroit, where a post-apocalyptic cityscape of looted and charred homes has come to represent a sort of sarcophagus of the American Dream.
But beyond simply fueling murders and bribery scandals, decades of hard times have finally birthed new signs of life here in the Motor City, as its gritty neighborhoods attract a burgeoning community of artists, hipsters, and socially minded entrepreneurs. "With a little bit of motivation, you can make anything happen here," says Jason Williams, a.k.a. Revok, a renowned Los Angeles graffiti artist turned Detroiter, whose lively murals adorn walls not far from the crackhead sign. "It's all about the reality that you create for yourself."
For those willing to brave the nation's most dangerous major city, Detroit offers a tight-knit and successful creative community. The birthplace of Motown and techno still manages to turn out chart-busting artists like Eminem and Jack White. And growing numbers of bohemians have found that a few thousand dollars will buy them a classic brick townhouse or a loft in an art-deco skyscraper. Where old buildings have fallen, hundreds of urban gardens sprout.
Seasteading Institute Senior Director Randy Hencken aboard the Merlot: Josh Harkinson
We're sitting in the sleek lounge of San Francisco's Infinity Towers around a granite coffee table inexplicably stacked with unopened cans of wild sardines: one reporter and a handful of adherents to obscure political philosophies, flirting over cocktails.
"I can go either way on the caning," says a guy I'll call MH, a thirtysomething tech entrepreneur in an expensive suit who recently returned from a jaunt to Singapore, "but I have no fundamental problem with harsh punishment for people who deserve it."
Kate Herrick, a teacher with an online school promoting the views of the late author and libertarian demigoddess Ayn Rand, smiles appreciatively and tosses her curly hair. "And I think they should go further with torture," she offers. "When you read about these serial killers…"
Among the 15 top donors to outside political groups this election cycle, only two happen to work for the same company: James Simons, the billionaire founder and chairman of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies is a prominent Democrat. RenTech's co-chief executive, Robert Mercer, is a Republican backer of right-wing tea party candidates. In all, they've given $3 million to political groups and candidates that often seem to be diametrically opposed.
In an election year in which the Democratic Party's Wall Street donors have threatened to jump ship, RenTech's approach may provide a roadmap for the financial sector's evolving political strategy. By all appearances, the notoriously secretive hedge fund approaches politics as it approaches investing: by hedging its bets.