Michael Carpenter, CEO of embattled lender GMAC, was paid $1.2 million for six weeks of work last year. On an annualized basis, this amounts to around $9.5 million. That's pretty nice pay for the CEO of a firm that's majority owned by the U.S. government -- almost equivalent to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein's $9.6 million compensation for 2009. Should we be outraged?
On one hand, it's a little early to judge just how good a job Carpenter will do in turning around GMAC. Sure, it had a pitiful 2009, but he had only been on the job for those last six weeks of the year. Given that the firm was one of the most troubled to receive federal funds, he has quite a task ahead of him. If he does, somehow, manage to bring GMAC back to profitability and repay the $17.3 billion bailout, then he may be worth it.
Above I said that Carpenter's annualized pay compares similarly to that of the Goldman Sachs CEO. I mentioned that because several sources, including the New York Times, Financial Times and Bloomberg, all highlight that fact. But I think it's a little disingenuous to compare his pay to that of the Goldman CEO. Blankfein made far less money than he would have if his pay wasn't a public relations disaster waiting to happen. If nobody in Washington or the press cared about Goldman, his compensation would easily have been several times greater.
What I find most surprising about Carpenter's pay is that the Obama administration's Special Master of Compensation, Kenneth Feinberg, approved it. He'd have had to, since GMAC hasn't paid back its bailout. Bloomberg quotes a spokeswoman from the pay czar's office:
"His compensation was determined by the special master and reflects his experience leading other large complex financial- services organizations," spokeswoman Gina Proia said in an interview. "Mike has joined GMAC at a critical time in turning around the operation."
I get that Feinberg thinks Carpenter's role is important, but that's still a pretty enormous pay figure for a bailout firm's CEO. From what I had read about Feinberg, I didn't think he was so willing to allow such lofty compensation.
But what this really signals is that the government has no intention of allowing GMAC to fail. The pay it's providing to Carpenter isn't designed for someone who can quietly wind down a firm: it's for a savior. And that's a shame, because as I've said before, there's little reason why GMAC should have been saved in the first place. Instead of being allowed to fail, it continues to hemorrhage cash, losing billions of dollars each quarter of 2009 and requiring an unprecedented third bailout late last year. The government is clearly intent on throwing whatever money it takes at GMAC to keep the firm afloat, and excessive pay for its new CEO is just the latest target for taxpayer cash.