By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009
NEW YORK -- Goldman Sachs said Thursday that its top 30 executives will forgo cash bonuses for 2009, instead receiving all their year-end pay in the form of restricted stock that can't be cashed in for five years.
The move comes as the Wall Street investment bank -- which has reported massive profits this year trading in markets boosted by federal aid -- faces increasing criticism from Washington over what is shaping up to be a very handsome bonus season just a year after receiving taxpayer funds. During the first three quarters of the year, the bank set aside nearly $17 billion for compensation expenses, roughly equal to the amount it booked for the same period in 2007. That year, Goldman went on to pay a record $68 million bonus to chief executive Lloyd Blankfein.
The change in pay structure applies to the 30-person management committee, which has traditionally been compensated with a combination of cash bonuses, restricted stock and stock options.
While Washington reacted favorably to the decision, it wasn't clear how far the action would go in tamping down the public outrage over the revival of Wall Street bonuses even as unemployment remains high.
"It's a very small step in a very long journey," said Nell Minow, co-founder of the Corporate Library, an independent research company specializing in executive compensation. "A lot will depend on how it's implemented -- what are the amounts going to be and on what basis are they going to be awarded?"
Goldman's board also voted on Thursday to approve a measure that would grant shareholders an advisory vote at the 2010 annual meeting on compensation packages for the top five executives.
"We believe our compensation policies are the strongest in our industry and ensure that compensation accurately reflects the firm's performance and incentivizes behavior that is in the public's and our shareholders' best interests," Blankfein said in a statement.
The announced changes are for the 2009 pay period only, and a Goldman spokesman said the firm's compensation practices would be continuously reviewed by the board.
The 30 executives, members of the firm's global divisional and regional leadership, won't be able to sell any of the restricted shares awarded to them for 2009 for five years. The vesting period has yet to be decided, a Goldman spokesman said.
Some industry observers praised Goldman for continuing to actively fight public perceptions of the firm as a greedy titan that benefited from the government's extraordinary efforts to revive Wall Street but has done little to ease the pain on Main Street. Last month, the bank announced a $500 million initiative to help small businesses.
"You got to give Goldman credit for getting in front of it," said Robert A. Profusek, a partner at the law firm Jones Day who deals with executive compensation. "I just hope people don't conclude that what's good for Goldman is good for everyone else. "