Michael Eisner, Walt Disney Co.'s chief executive, will not get an incentive payment for 1999--the first time since 1993 he has not received a multimillion-dollar bonus.
Don't expect to see Eisner looking for extra cash on Disney's ABC-TV hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" any time soon though. Even without the bonus, Eisner took his regular salary of more than $750,000 and $49.9 million in exercised stock options to the bank last year, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, he has a paper profit of $68.4 million in stock options he did not exercise, the filing said.
Eisner and other Disney board members did not receive bonuses this year because the company did not reach certain targets in its earnings. The company declined to disclose what those targets were. Disney's net income for 1999 was $1.3 billion, compared with $1.9 billion the previous year.
Like most top executives at publicly held companies, most of Eisner's compensation comes in the form of stock options. They essentially are the right to buy the company's stock at a preset price during a specific time period and sell it when the market price is higher. If the stock price falls, the options aren't exercised.
In 1998, Forbes magazine listed Eisner as the best-paid executive in the country, citing his earnings at $589 million including salary, bonus and non-cash stock gains. The company disputed the fairness of that number, noting that the gains in stock options came over 10 years.
"Eisner doesn't exercise his options until they're about to expire in order to show faith in the company," a Disney spokesman said today.
Eisner has been with the the company since 1984, and in most of those years he has overseen a rapid growth of revenues and profits for the nation's second-largest media empire. But in the last two years, the company's success story has faltered, with earnings dropping 36 percent and its stock flat at a time when many other stocks have seen phenomenal growth. (Disney's stock was up $1 today to close at $32.62 1/2.)
In 1997, Disney approved a new compensation contract for Eisner that was criticized by some shareholder groups as excessive. That contract is now being renegotiated and Eisner's bonus is determined by the same formula as other Disney executives.
"Because they've come under criticism in the past and he has money in the bank, it would have been a public relations nightmare if he got a huge bonus at a time when the shareholders aren't making money," said Carol Bowie, editor of Executive Compensation Reports in Alexandria.
The company is renegotiating part of Eisner's contract because under the 1997 version, if the company made an acquisition, Eisner could have been paid a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars--a benefit that was not intended, according to a company spokesman.
In a letter to shareholders issued today, Eisner said his faith in the company remains strong, with television hits such as the millionaire game show and movies such as "Toy Story 2," in addition to theme parks, videos, cable networks and consumer products.
"I could look Regis Philbin straight in the eye and say: 'Yes. That is my final answer,' " Eisner wrote. "At the Walt Disney Co., we are poised for strong long-term growth even as we address near-term challenges."
CAPTION: Chief executive Michael Eisner's bonuses are usually in the millions.