In case you hadn't heard, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has taken a pay cut. Kind of.
For Microsoft's fiscal 2009, Ballmer earned $1.28 million, down from $1.35 million a year earlier. But in a year in which Microsoft saw sales drop for the first time, Ballmer's salary actually rose, to about $655,000 from $640,000. Don't worry, though -- Ballmer's bonus was off $100,000 from last year's $600,000.
Ballmer, as news reports have so generously pointed out, refuses to receive Microsoft shares as part of his compensation. But does he really need any more? Ballmer owns about 5 percent of Microsoft's common shares, which is good for more than $10 billion. Let's just say he's not likely to have trouble feeding the family this winter.
Picking on Ballmer is hardly fair. Microsoft notes in its annual proxy statement filed with the SEC that its "compensation committee believes Mr. Ballmer is underpaid for his role and performance." If you take some other titans in the sector (more on that later) as a point of comparison, they're right. Thanks to his denial of stock awards, Ballmer isn't even close to Microsoft's top earner. Robert Bach, president of the entertainment and devices unit, saw $6.21 million, and chief operating officer Kevin Turner made $7.9 million.
Steven Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, negotiated a brilliant $4.1 million in relocation expenses when he joined in January from Juniper Networks, where he was COO. Microsoft bought his Silicon Valley home, bringing his compensation package to $11.8 million. Not bad.
But those earnings are modest compared to some of the tech sector's biggest earners. While financial services firms have understandably borne the brunt of public scorn for their executive compensation practices, technology vendors are not without guilt. Vendors may be suffering as businesses slash their IT budgets, but executives at those vendors haven't necessarily been suffering along with them.
Last week, HP, Cisco and Tyco (former home to Dennis Kozlowski) were among several big names that endorsed a set of executive compensation principles drawn up by the non-profit Conference Board -- the idea being to beat the government to the punch.
Is that the same HP that handed out $43 million in compensation to CEO and president Mark Hurd in 2008? While Hurd's compensation was increasing 73 percent from 2007, HP's stock price dropped almost 30 percent. In 2008, HP's Randy Mott was the highest paid CIO at a public company, raking in $24.7 million in total compensation, according to Business Week .
Hurd has since taken a pay cut of his own -- his $1.4 million base salary has fallen 20 percent, to about $1.1 million. Of course, HP was also busy with two rounds of across-the-board pay cuts at EDS, which it acquired last August. In February, EDS employees saw pay cuts of 2.5 percent to 15 percent. One month later, they got another 10 percent chopped off their salaries.
Cisco CEO John Chambers earned $14.2 million in total compensation in fiscal 2009 -- a 16 percent increase from the year prior. Chambers was awarded a $2 million bonus for "vision and leadership," AP reported last week. And who can blame them? After all, Cisco's revenue only fell 9 percent last year, and net income was only off 24 percent.
I'm not suggesting that executives at technology companies fall on their sword. They can hardly be blamed for the current environment (unlike their counterparts at the Goldman Sachs of the world). But they could probably stand to share more of the pain.