Skip to main content

Notebook Business


Sharing the wealth

Ford CEO receives $18 million bonus in lieu of an annual salary

Imagine heading up one of the nation's largest corporations, one with more than 300,000 employees, and not accepting a penny in salary for four years.

That's the case at Ford Motor Company where Bill Ford took over as chief executive in 2001 on the condition that his compensation be based on the performance of the company.

That plan paid off last week as the board of directors rewarded Mr. Ford with an $18 million bonus in stock grants and options after the company increased its revenues by more than $3 billion last year.

Mr. Ford, whose great-grandfather Henry Ford started the company in 1903, pledged to give $1.5 million to a fund that helps Ford employees pay for their children's college tuition. Last week, he said he planned to give another $1.5 million to the scholarship fund, as well as another $1.5 million in stock equivalents to local charities.

"Funding scholarships for employees' children seems appropriate since in the end my performance is really a measure of your efforts," Mr. Ford told company employees by e-mail.

The company also announced that more than 6,000 managers and another 34,500 lower-level salaried employees would receive bonuses this year. Ford also paid $600 profit-sharing checks for 2004 to hourly employees.

Long-distance order

Soon, the person taking your order at the world's largest restaurant chain may be located in another city, another state, or even another country.

McDonald's Corp. has begun testing the use of remote call centers to handle drive-thru orders. Initially, the call centers are being tested at a small number of restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.

"If you're in L.A. and you hear a person . . . with a North Dakota accent taking your order, you'll know what we're up to," said McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner.

Company officials hope the call centers will help individual restaurants process orders faster and reduce the number of errors. "You [will] have a professional order taker with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders," said Matthew Paull, the company's chief financial officer.

McDonald's currently operates more than 13,500 restaurants in the United States and more than 30,000 worldwide. A company spokesman said it's still too early to say whether the outsourcing strategy would be implemented system-wide.

Balance Sheet

· The long-awaited successor to Disney CEO Michael Eisner will be Robert Iger. The 54-year-old Mr. Iger, who has served as Disney's president since 2000, is expected to take charge Oct. 1, ending Mr. Eisner's stormy 21-year reign as chief executive.

· With the price of crude oil rising steadily, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced plans to boost production. In the past five weeks, prices have increased nearly 20 percent.

· Despite an increase in exports during January, the U.S. trade deficit climbed to $58.3 billion, the second-highest level in history. Much of the imbalance came from an increase in imports of foreign cars and auto parts.

· The soaring cost of fuel has caused most major U.S. airlines to increase fares in recent weeks, including American, America West, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and Southwest. Rate increases have varied from $1 to $20 each way.

· Discount broker Charles Schwab Corp. sued rival T.D. Waterhouse last week, claiming the company's advertisements have libeled Schwab. The suit seeks a court order to ban the ads that, Schwab says, label it a high-priced firm with low-quality service.

Share this article with friends.



Costly speech

The popularity of blogs has caused the number of employees being fired for comments made about their employers rise

The first Amendment protects speech from government restriction, but it doesn't force companies to employ those who speak freely about them. Private employers in most states are free to fire their employees at will, as long as the firing is not discriminatory or in retaliation for whistle-blowing or union organizing.

With the popularity of web journals, or blogs, the number of employees being fired for comments made about their employers is on the rise.

Google, for example, fired Mark Jen for discussing life at the company. Flight attendant Ellen Simonetti lost her job after posting suggestive photographs of herself in a company uniform. Web designer Heather Armstrong was fired for comments regarding a company Christmas party. And Microsoft fired Michael Hanscom for violating security by describing a company building.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 7 percent of online U.S. adults maintain blogs, while more than 27 percent read them. Those numbers are likely to increase in the next few years.

And with search engines capable of finding virtually anything on the web, employees are cautioned to check with their employer regarding the company's policy on blogging before posting to their personal website.

Bringing home the bacon

A law passed by Congress in October is leading a number of large American companies to shift billions of dollars in overseas profits back to the United States.

Under terms of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, companies can pay a reduced 5.25 percent tax on overseas earnings returned to the United States within the next year. The profits otherwise face tax rates as high as 35 percent.

Johnson & Johnson, IBM Corp., Dell, and Kelloggs were among the first companies to say they plan to take advantage of the temporary tax break. Some analysts believe as much as $400 billion in overseas earnings might eventually return to the United States.

Lawmakers purposely left out much of the language that would dictate to companies how they could spend their imported money. Instead, the Treasury Department ruled that the money can be used to hire and train workers, make capital investments, conduct research and development, advertise and market products, or stabilize the company's finances.

The only restrictions are that it cannot be used for executive compensation, shareholder dividends, stock buybacks, portfolio investments, or tax payments.

Balance Sheet

· A rock star heading the World Bank? It could happen, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, who wouldn't rule out the possibility of U2 singer Bono being on the short list of candidates. In addition to the Irish rock star, other potential candidates include recently ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina; Peter McPherson, the former head of Michigan State University who served as President Bush's point man on rebuilding Iraq's financial system; and Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

· Just in time for spring break, gas prices are on the rise again. A survey of 7,000 gas stations across the country found that average retail prices increased nearly 7 cents per gallon in late February. The average price for self-serve regular gas was $1.97 per gallon. Analysts says prices will continue to increase with soaring crude oil prices and rising demand for reformulated gasoline required in many metropolitan areas to reduce smog.

· Credited with cleaning up his company's ethical behavior, Harry Stonecipher was forced out as president and CEO at Boeing after an internal investigation revealed questions about his personal ethics. The 68-year-old Stonecipher, who is married, reportedly had a "consensual" relationship with a female executive at the company.

Share this article with friends.



Follow the leaders

Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc.

For some investors, one way to make money is to find a company that is the target of a buyout and purchase its stock before the merger is announced.

It's a risky strategy, but one telltale sign is often movement at the top of the corporate organizational chart. After a merger, only one of the CEOs involved in the deal can maintain the top position with the new company. That often leads the "losing" CEO to leave the company prior to the announcement.

The resignation may take place weeks or months ahead of a merger, but for investors it's almost always too late to wait for the merger announcement before buying stock. That was exactly the scenario in a retail merger proposed last week.

Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc. is buying rival May Department Stores for $11 billion. The deal combines Federated's Macy's and Bloomingdales stores with St. Louis-based May Company's Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor chains.

The merger had been discussed for years but didn't come to fruition until May CEO and chairman Gene Kahn abruptly left the company in January. That cleared the way for Federated Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren to head the new entity.

By the time the deal was announced, though, both companies' stock prices were near their 52-week highs, dampening prospects for new investors.

You snooze, you lose

Are you a procrastinator? If so, it's likely you'll be one of the more than 8 million Americans asking for an extension with the Internal Revenue Service next month. Or perhaps you'll simply be one of the many millions more waiting until the April 15 deadline to file your income taxes.

Either way, delaying the inevitable creates unnecessary stress and increases the risk of errors on your return. "Don't wait for the motivation or desire to do your taxes because it may never come," warns Michelle Tullier, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Overcoming Procrastination.

For starters, say tax experts, begin collecting information that applies to your tax situation. In addition to W-2 forms, this could include unreimbursed work expenses, charitable donations, tuition payments, mortgage and home equity loan documents, medical bills, home office expenses, and union dues.

If you wait until the last minute, you may be unable to locate these documents and miss out on potential savings. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service said among these overlooked expenditures that can mean tax benefits are student loan interest, alimony, personal property taxes, work uniforms, job search expenses, professional dues, and a variety of medical costs.

Balance sheet

· Starbucks launched its first alcoholic drink in collaboration with Jim Beam this month. The new Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, however, will only be sold in restaurants, bars, and liquor stores-not in Starbucks' popular coffeehouses.

· Good news may be on the way for U.S. beef producers. After meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japan is considering lifting its ban on imports of U.S. beef. The ban took effect in December 2003 when the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, was confirmed. Before the ban, Japan was the most lucrative overseas market for U.S. beef producers, buying $1.7 billion in beef in 2003.

· Expect to see more "Yellow" trucks on the interstates this summer as Yellow Roadway Corp. has agreed to buy rival USF Corp. for $1.37 billion in cash and stock. The merger is expected to result in savings of about $40 million in the first year and long-term savings of at least $150 million, but there was no word on possible layoffs.

· Southwest Airlines began offering a quicker way for customers to find its cheapest fares late last month. Through the company's website, customers can download "Ding!," a free software that automatically informs customers when new deals are available. Ding! fares will be slightly cheaper than those offered through Southwest's weekly e-mail offers.

Share this article with friends.