The Guys Who Earn the Big Bucks Area Executives Always Looking to Weigh Their (Stock) Options

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Basch, Times-Union business writer

On paper -- that is the paper used to print the company's proxy statement -- Al Rowland got a pretty good pay package when he joined Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. as chief executive officer in November 1999.

Although his salary is fairly modest for the CEO of a $14 billion company, Rowland received 500,000 options to buy Winn-Dixie stock at $27 each, options potentially worth about $23 million if the company's stock rises by 10 percent a year, according to the proxy.

But things didn't work out that way, at least in fiscal 2000. By the end of the fiscal year last June, Winn-Dixie's stock price had fallen to $14.39, meaning that Rowland would have lost more than $6 million if he had been able to cash in those options last year.

With the stock market floundering, a lot of executives who receive large option packages may be finding their compensation package isn't worth the paper the proxies were printed on. And that goes for low-level employees who also receive stock options as part of their pay plans.

"The era of mega option profits may be over," said a statement by Diane D. Posnak, managing director of Pearl Meyer & Partners, a New York executive compensation consulting firm.

In the 1990s, many public companies increased their reliance on stock options as part of the compensation plan for top executives. It was seen as a way to reward the executives if shareholders prospered.

Pearl Meyer released a study last month showing that America's 200 largest corporations have allocated 15.2 percent of shares outstanding for management and employee incentive plans, up from 6.9 percent.

But with the stock market falling back to reality in the past year, stock options are not as popular with executives and particularly with lower-level employees who don't get a big weekly paycheck to begin with.

"Corporate America has overdosed on stock options," said Posnak. "Companies are grappling with serious morale and retention issues as stock prices have fallen and are facing some painful financial choices."

Of the 30 Jacksonville executives granted stock options valued at potentially more than $500,000 last year, according to proxy statements, two-thirds would have actually lost money if they were able to exercise the options. The only CEO to show a profit on options was Jeffrey C. Crowe of Landstar System Inc. The trucking company's stock has been rising to record heights the last two years amidst strong profitability.

One other top executive, Alvin R. "Pete" Carpenter of CSX Corp., showed a profit on his options as the company's stock rebounded last year. CSX is based in Virginia, but Carpenter, who retired as vice chairman earlier this year, worked out of Jacksonville.

Of course, all these stock option calculations are only on paper. In reality, it takes several years for options to vest, so most of the options granted in fiscal 2000 can't be exercised anyway. And the stock market can change drastically by the time they do vest.

Just look at Rowland's package. Although 2000 was a down year for the stock, Winn-Dixie has been the best-performing stock among all Jacksonville companies in 2001 and has been one of the top performers among the entire S&P 500 stocks. At the end of April, when Winn-Dixie closed at $31.57, Rowland was showing a $2. …