Fat CEO Paychecks to Get a Hefty Trim in France

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Henri Proglio, CEO of Electricite de France (Getty Images)How much more does your average American CEO make than you? In 2011, the average CEO of a company large enough to be listed in the Standard & Poor's Index was paid 380 times what his employees earned. That number is astounding for two reasons:
  • First, it's really big.
  • Second, according to the folks at the AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch site, it's about nine times bigger than the gap that yawned between CEO compensation and average worker pay just 30 years ago.
Quelle horreur!

Here in America, we read news reports like this one and grumble. But over in France, they've decided to go ahead and do something about it.

Last month, the French finance minister announced a plan to cap salaries paid to CEOs of state-owned enterprises. Henceforth, no CEO at a company in which France owns a sizable stake can be paid more than 20 times the company's average worker's wage.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this new CEO pay-law could cut compensation for the leaders of some of France's leading state-owned businesses -- from the French post office to Electricite de France -- by as much as two-thirds. In theory, some French CEOs could soon have to scrape by on as little as $557,550 a year.

The English Translation

Of course, when you put it that way, this doesn't sound like too big of a hardship. But to put it in context -- and remind you of just how big the differences are between CEO salary and average workers' wages here in the U.S. -- we thought we'd run down for you a few side-by-side comparisons of what a similar pay cap would cause here in the states:

If you were the CEO of... And were earning...* A French-style two-thirds pay cut would cost you...
Herbalife (HLF) $24.6 million $16.4 million
News Corp. (NWS) $33.3 million $22.2 million
ExxonMobil (XOM) $34.9 million $23.3 million
J.C. Penney (JCP) $53.3 million $35.5 million
Simon Property Group $137.2 million $91.5 million (!)
Apple (AAPL) $378.0 million $252 million (!!)

*All numbers courtesy of AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch, and include all compensation ranging from salary to bonuses to stock options, deferred compensation, and other fringe benefits. (For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook had take-home salary of "only" $1.82 million in 2011. The extra $376.18 million was all benefits.)

While each of these executives would still be a fair sight away from needing to apply for food stamps, most folks would probably agree -- losing a quarter billion of his paycheck would be enough to make even Apple's Tim Cook start feeling some pain.

CEOs in Need

Now, before you run off and try to organize a Live Aid concert to benefit poverty-stricken French CEOs ... don't.

For one thing, France's pay cap hasn't gone into effect yet. The official decree isn't expected out until later this month, and even once the details are drafted, they may not go into effect until next year. Also, the details as we've seen them only seem to apply to salaries per se, and do not yet address "stock options, so-called 'golden parachute' clauses and other components of executive salary packages," according to news site France 24.

Also, The Wall Street Journal rushes to head off any wild-eyed speculation that France might try to limit private sector CEO salaries, quoting local business lobbyist Laurence Parisot as warning that under no circumstances should the finance ministry's move be extended to the private sector. Such action, warns Parisot, would "isolate" France, diverting talent to more countries where CEO pay is more generous, such as -- notably -- the United States, which "won't follow" any attempts to rein in CEO pay that France might attempt to instigate.

For the time being, at least, the 10.1% of French citizens who are out of work and looking for a job can breathe a sigh of relief. At least most of their CEOs' salaries are safe. And the 8.2% of Americans looking for a job can rest easy, too. Our captains of industry remain just as comfortably immune from the Great Recession as their peers in Socialist France.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith visited France once. Contrary to what you may have heard, the people were friendly, and the croissants were fresh. Rich holds no position in any company mentioned, but The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

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38 Comments

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JUDITH

Ever wish that these companies with high paid CEO's would care more about their customers than making these CEO's rich?

July 11 2012 at 12:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
JUDITH

Ever wish that these companies with high paid CEO's would care more about their customers than making these CEO's rich?

July 11 2012 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
michaelphldlph

If a government owns a controlling interest in a corporation then of cource they have the right to set executive salaries. In a publicly owned corporation, the shareholders ultimately decide executive compensation. The government doesn't nor should they have a say in the matter any more than they should have a say in what a sports star or movie star is paid. Compensation will ultimately be based on that persons perceived value to the organization.

July 10 2012 at 6:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
craigmrfrn

They don't want Communism, they don't want socialism, and they don't want unions, but unfortunately their abusive actions make every possible case for these. If they had real leadership qualities and backbones to match, there would be none of these conflicts. Treat the "lazy, stupid, greedy" workers the way you would want to be treated.

July 10 2012 at 2:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
craigmrfrn

Look at how abusive they are. To think a consumer is good enough to buy a gift card for a store like Wal Mart. Then they get together behind closed doors and conjure up ways to screw that person out of that money by whittling away at it with inactivity fees. Yea, they are such a bunch of hard working crooks.

July 10 2012 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
craigmrfrn

GM isn't state owned. Keep in mind, they went to the government.

July 10 2012 at 2:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
oafdawg

Don't like how much CEO's make? Start your own company! Then you can pay yourself whatever you want, and all of the leftover money can be given to people who think you owe them a living!

July 10 2012 at 1:51 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to oafdawg's comment
craigmrfrn

How about don't do business with companies that have greedy CEO's

July 10 2012 at 2:26 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
wildlandin

Exactly...those who don't like how a business is run and think their idea and way of doing business is better...then go out and do it. If you're right you'll succeed, if not you'll learn some valuable lessions about business and how foolish your ideas were about competition and"how" something should work. I went on my own 27 years ago....never looked back. Quit whining about what other people get paid. We have a society full of cry babies and it's killing us. I've broached this exact subject to similar whiners many times over the years and you get the same cow-eyed look and a truckload of excuses every time. And I remind them very pointedly, this is why that guy/gal gets the big bucks, they had the stones to go out and do it, while you whine about how you can't and life's not fair. They took the risk so they get the reward. Don't like it, don't agree with it??.....then open your own shop.

July 10 2012 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wildlandin's comment
craigmrfrn

Same here. I've been on My own for the last two years. I had it with the sociopaths running the companies. They have no passion for business, just passion for money. They lack creativity. Just lay people off when times get tough. Intimidate the workers. This is why they want to look into your Facebook account. It scares them. People can organize. It can become more powerful than any Union. This is why they hate the new health care. They can't hold loosing your health insurance over your head if you loose your job.

July 10 2012 at 5:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
sg

Love this idea. Should help to make companies more profitable. And to help the economy in general rather than buying one person extra houses and yachts.

July 10 2012 at 1:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sg's comment
Ken

what I take from this is simple..The AFL-CIO isn't doing thier jobs.. They are getting outsmarted in every aspect. Notice they do not put their salary in their compared to what the average worker that pays dues makes? hmmmm wonder why.. You want all that..go to school, pay your dues..and make your way to the top of your profession.. How come you don't see anyone comparing what the person who sells popcorn at the movie theatres makes vs the actors that make 30 million a movie..(4 to 5 months of work at best) how come you don't see any complaints about the millions per game an athlete makes vs the guy selling peanuts? your a bunch of hypocrites who pick and choose your hatred..not based on time spent getting to the top..but what you hear a dividing class warfare president and press making..Its disgusting without any facts..and final thing.. those are companies that are government owned..and no government should run companies.. sorry,, you like that..go there and live.. enjoy the 75% tax rate while you are there..oh, and the terrific health care they don't have.. (but the leaders do) hahahaha... to bad our educational system is failing us so much

July 10 2012 at 2:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
SPQR

without those great big fat salaries how can the CEOs donate to the charities of their choice, such as the Bill Gates foundation. That Charity loans money to mexico at a whopping 100% interest rate...god bless America

July 10 2012 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jkennedy806

they should get trimmed here as well -- they don't share the profits with the employees who help make them their big paychecks and obscene annual bonus

July 10 2012 at 1:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply