On being photographed with jailbirds

Gerard Henderson writes: Re. “Bruce McWilliam keeps curious company at Sydney Institute dinner” (Friday). Stephen Mayne, the Sage of Doncaster, has advised me that he was the author of last Friday’s “Tips and rumours” piece titled “Who’s who at Sydney Institute dinner”. He did not contact me before writing his tip.

Mr Mayne sees something dark in the fact that Bruce McWilliam and myself were photographed alongside Rodney and Lyndi Adler at the Sydney Institute’s 2017 Annual dinner last Thursday.

What happened was that The Australian’s photographer approached some of around 930 guests before the dinner commenced. I was talking to a group comprising of the Adlers and Mr McWilliam at the time. Being a courteous kind of guy, I agreed to be in the shot. That’s all.

The Sage of Doncaster calls Rodney Adler a “jailbird”. In my view, Mr Adler was convicted of a crime and served time in prison. This does not mean that no one should ever be photographed with him.

By the way, I was also photographed with Natasha Stott Despoja and Mark Di Stefano. Moreover, contrary to Stephen Mayne’s assertion, Rodney Adler is not a “long-term backer of Gerard Henderson”. In fact, he has had no relationship with The Sydney Institute for some 15 years. Mr Mayne should do some fact-checking.

Sure, the Adlers on occasions purchase tickets to the Institute’s annual dinner. We are a non-moralising pluralist organisation. This year’s guests included a Chinese-born taxi driver who managed to get his photograph taken with the Prime Minister. Here’s hoping the Sage of Doncaster does not read too much into this.

Why we need to pay CEOs less

Matthew Cummins writes: Re. “The surprising relationship between company tax and executive pay” (Friday). Further to David Peetz’s article, The surprising relationship between company tax and executive pay I was impressed by his careful mathematical approach.

My own experience as director or chairman on a number of boards in the $1 billion-$5 billion asset range ($200,000 to $500,000 CEO salaries) is instructive from another angle. This is how these ridiculous sums are arrived at: The board is approached by the CEO (existing or about to be appointed) and a larger figure than the prime minister’s salary is suggested for someone with fairly pedestrian skills in accounting, HR, or technical background, and promptly the board appoints an “independent” consultant who benchmarks the current industry figure. The list of consultants is usually supplied by the CEO and in any case their fees and further work depend on them giving a satisfactorily high salary and bonus suggestion. Like all clubs, you play the rules or you don’t play for long.

The board accepts this report and pays a salary against a background of “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys” comments.

The truth is that most of the appointments I was involved with would have done the job for half the salary. I could have gone to the local high school and found people in management there who from my experience would have done a better job and would have thought they were overpaid at $150k.

Then the bonus! Apparently if you don’t pay a bonus, the already ridiculous salary is not enough to motivate the non-monkey to do his job. (Let’s be honest – its nearly always a male.) And you ought to hear the screamo when you suggest at year’s end that they haven’t met their KPIs to justify the bonus!

At the higher end, salaries of $5 million and $10 million destroy the nexus between normal job pride and worth and create a divide among a con artist elite and the rest of the company workers. A clever PA on $68,000 pa who watches her (this end is often female) boss stumble through various disasters with bravado and bullshit while picking up 25 times her salary forms a very disdainful view of society’s fairness.

The answer? Shareholders and responsible government board ministers need to attack this disgrace by appointing board directors with some spine. Offer half the current salary – not one of these self-promoting CEOs will fail to take the job.


Peter Fray

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