I generally like Donahoe. And believe it or not I don’t blame him personally for accepting the compensation he was offered. If someone offered me that kind of money I’d probably take it too! I’d also bet many reading this would do the same.
But yes, this reveals a much larger problem in corporate America. Since the 1980’s executive compensation has become outright obscene. In 1965 the average Fortune 500 CEO-to-worker wage gap was 20 to 1. By 1989 it was 59 to 1. By 1995 it was 123 to 1. And now, in 2020, it is approximately 350 to 1.
While certain (usually wealthy) people have attempted to justify this thru various tenuous arguments, today even an increasing number of economists are saying, “Yeah, this is kind of messed-up and there is no rational economic or business argument supporting THAT much of an increase in four decades. We should start calling it what it is: pure greed, looting and grift amongst a small group of wealthy individuals who for the most part take care of each other at the expense of the many.”
This is all a signal that we are in what’s known as “late-stage capitalism”. In late-stage capitalism everything economic becomes out of balance and out of proportion. You have massive pay gaps, massive wealth gaps, and massive gaps in who has access to basic societal needs like healthcare. When people decide they have had enough of it they start to push back. I dare say that is why Donald Trump got elected (even though I personally think he was the absolutely wrong and a dangerous vessel through which to vent this type of anger.). This is also why the murder of George Floyd was a critical and overdue flashpoint for racial inequities. When people have finally had enough they get mad and they push back.
As all of these inequities continue to grow you’ll see increasing societal and economic unrest. Because even if a lot of people don’t deeply understand the economic and societal issues, most intuitively know that “something is very wrong”.
On the economic front the best case scenario is that government starts regulating or massively taxing things like executive compensation over a certain point. While I am admittedly uncomfortable with government deciding “what’s fair” like that, it has become abundantly clear that corporate America has little short or mid-term incentive to police such economic inequities itself. Even though it’s been empirically shown that excessive executive compensation has a direct and negative impact on employee morale, loyalty, and even productivity.
Like I said at the beginning, I actually like Donahoe. He strikes me as a decent human who genuinely cares about people. And that’s why I’d really like to see him take the lead in pushing back on his own 2020 compensation. If he did that he’d instantly become a rockstar not just at Nike, but in America. I can see the news headline now: “Nike CEO Pushes Back On Own Compensation, Says It ‘Wouldn’t be right’ To Accept In 2020 - The Year of Covid”. Can you imagine the pressure that would put on other Fortune 500 CEO’s??? He wouldn’t make many friends amongst the jet-set or perhaps even the Nike board, but man...what a powerful message of change that would send.
Oh well. A girl can dream, no?