Escape Artist

by digby

Yesterday I referred to Chrysler chief Nardelli in passing as an example of the failed CEO who consistently fails up. Today, I read in the NY Times that the Obama administration is insisting that GM CEO Rick Wagoner step down before the taxpayers agree to give GM another dime. But Nardelli, whose record of failure is at least as great over the years as Wagoner's, stays.

According to the NY Times:

In deciding to urge Mr. Wagoner to step down, the Obama administration seemed mindful of the public’s growing outrage over bailouts of private companies, as well as the bonuses paid to employees of A.I.G.

Mr. Obama is well aware that he cannot afford to give the appearance of using tax dollars to reward executives who have done a poor job, and he began signaling as early as last week that he would take a tough stance with the automakers.

In a question and answer session at the White House on Thursday, the president said there had been “a lot of mismanagement of the auto industry over the past several years,” and declared that more government help would be contingent on the companies’ “willingness to make some pretty drastic changes.”

They'd certainly better watch the taxpayers wallet with Nardelli in the room:

Nardelli will be on a very short leash, and look for Congress to question his every move.

You see, he has a compensation problem.

When Nardelli resigned as CEO of Home Depot in 2007, he was essentially run out as a result of his pay. Not only that, he was criticized by shareholder activists for ignoring investor concerns about his pay. Indeed, at a May 2006 annual meeting, he refused to answer questions from shareholders and gaveled the meeting to a quick close, ignoring shareholders who wanted to exercise their rights by asking questions and making comments to the board. Nardelli and Home Depot would later apologize for the spectacle.

When Nardelli quit Home Depot in 2007, he drew more ire by walking away with a $210 million golden parachute – even though his tenure did little to boost Home Depot’s stock price.

In fact, House Financial Services chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., was critical Nardelli back then, calling the severance package “out of control.”

Frank’s words back then echo now in the controversy over bonuses paid to AIG executives and any compensation going to CEOs of financial-services companies that have taken federal bailout dollars.

Perhaps Nardelli has learned from the experience. He was, after all, the first of the Big Three auto execs to agree to take just $1 in pay.

How Nardelli structures his future compensation will judge how hard a time the government gives him – and Chrysler – in the coming months.

If the administration were to make an example of someone, this would seem to me to be the logical guy. Or if Wagoner really needed to go for other reasons, it's hard to see why Nardelli escapes the guillotine as well.

This man has more lives than an alley cat. Then again, maybe Nardelli just has friends in high places who are protecting him. As Julia reminded me, Nardelli is a long time Big Money Boy who, along with other Home Depot execs, did everything in his power to pay back Eliot Spitzer for his attempts to clean up Wall Street as NY Attorney General:

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's challenger for the state's Democratic gubernatorial nomination received hundreds of thousands of dollars from people with ties to Home Depot Inc. founder Kenneth Langone, a registered Republican and target of a Spitzer lawsuit.

Langone, a defendant in Spitzer's suit over ousted New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso's retirement pay, supports Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi for governor. Suozzi's campaign received at least $300,000 from Langone, his wife, Elaine, and two adult sons, and present and former business and charity group associates, Suozzi campaign records on the state Board of Election Web site showed.

``I've found a substantial number in the business community inside and outside New York who feel that Spitzer as governor wouldn't be friendly to business,'' Langone said in a Jan. 12 interview. Earlier that day, he had a lunch with 15 business associates, nine of whom promised to help Suozzi, Langone said.


He also has said Spitzer sought ``headlines, not justice,'' when he named Langone a defendant in a May 2004 suit over his role heading the stock exchange compensation committee that awarded Grasso a $187 million retirement package.


An examination of campaign records found Suozzi's donors include Home Depot Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Nardelli, who gave $16,200. Walter Buckley, an original Home Depot shareholder and his wife, Marjorie, contributed $32,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus and his wife, Billi, gave $32,000, while Steven Holzman, who Langone named in 2001 as chief executive of his Invemed Associates LLC, donated $16,000.

Why Wagoner and not Nardelli? Who knows.
Maybe he's got some pals protecting him. But it seems to me that if they wanted to "send a message" Nardelli is the poster boy for worthless, overcompensated losers.

Update: Fergawdsake.