I have never worried about the really huge salaries some CEOs earn. Never been jealous. I always assume they must be worth it.
Someone must have thought so, made an offer, negotiations took place, deal done. We examined CEO remuneration and responsibilities when I was studying for my MBA in International Management, feels like a century ago now. We looked at large multinational organisations.
I wondered then, and still do, what drives a person to want to be responsible for the success of a huge conglomerate. Yes they have boards of professional directors that set the vision and direction they want the business to head in but how it gets there, the business oversight and management, is left to the CEO. It's entirely over to them. They have to be up to the job.
Years ago I knew a very successful overseas CEO who was headhunted to transform a high profile New Zealand business. He tolerated no interference or meddling whatsoever from his board.
"I claimed my territory as soon as I arrived," he told me.
I could see he expected the board to know and claim theirs too. They weren't strong enough. He stayed five years. Turned the organisation around and headed back overseas.
The board couldn't wait to see the back of him but the chairman confided in me that without the CEO with his brutal honesty, talent and organisational change management ability they would probably have gone under with the loss of 300 jobs. That's a lot of workers depending on the person at the top to know what they're doing.
I assume the CEOs of New Zealand's top 10 businesses are competent, know what they're doing and are producing the desired balance sheet results. They certainly won't be paid CEO peanuts, far from it.
But when I read the CEO of Fonterra Theo Spierings has an annual salary of $8.3 million I was staggered. I didn't know we had anyone in New Zealand earning at that particular level. It appears we don't. Mr Spierings is the exception, a one-off. He must be worth it. To me that sounds like winning the lottery every year.
For most of us it's hard, if not impossible, to visualise a weekly income of $162,000. That's my annual income. Mr Spierings would have negotiated his salary. He brought proven experience and knew the value of that experience.
His employer, the Fonterra board, would have had expert advice to guide the salary negotiations and finalised package. They believe they landed on the best person for the job. The best person to sustain great results in an industry impacted by overseas price setting and off-shore circumstances.
I hardly think Mr Spierings had board members' arms twisted up behind their backs demanding "hire me, hire me".
The whole country knows what Mr Spierings earns. People are quick to condemn a salary that appears to be out of all proportion to what other CEOs earn. Comments and finger wagging on social media point to the growing number of homeless, those getting by on the minimum wage, hospital waiting lists, even the conditions of some rural roads.
It appears if Mr Spierings' salary was halved this would make those concerned people feel better. But why pick on Mr Spierings? It's his good fortune to be New Zealand's highest paid executive. He's not to blame for social conditions in this country and shouldn't be made to feel guilty because of his eye watering amount of salary. That's what's being suggested. What a dopey idea.
There are thousands of dairy farmers in New Zealand who work damn hard for the business they own, Fonterra. If anyone is going to demand their board go out and look for a cheaper CEO it'll be them.
Mr Spierings' job is to demonstrate to Fonterra's board and shareholders an unwavering resolve to do whatever it takes to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult. The board won't settle for less.
But if they get nervous and want to listen to people who are not owners of the company and decide to look around for a cheaper CEO they will surely find one. And it won't be too difficult for this great New Zealand business to revert to a good New Zealand business. This is the stuff of case studies. Required reading for MBA students.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua Lakes Council councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart the spread of political correctness.