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Angelo Mozilo The former CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp. turned an obscure little company into one of the country's biggest mortgage providers. Unfortunately, that put him at the top of the subprime-mortgage bubble that began to burst in 2007. Mozilo testified about the subprime ordeal before the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March 2008, and voluntarily forwent $37.5 million in severance pay, as well as an annual $400,000 "consulting fee." But when Bank of America Corp. bought the struggling Countrywide, Mozilo still took home about $44 million — on top of the $140 million in Countrywide stock he sold off during 2006-7.
Michael Ovitz When Michael Ovitz was hired as Disney's president in 1995, his contract included a $130 million severance package should he be fired without cause after a year. Well, he was — and the $130 million went with him. Seventeen shareholders filed suit, claiming Disney directors had been reckless in agreeing to hire Ovitz and then fire him so soon after, and demanded the money back. In 2006, Delaware Supreme Court found in favor of Disney, and Ovitz got to keep the money.
Carly Sneed Fiorina With Fiorina as chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard's value declined significantly and the technology giant endured massive layoffs. Fiorina led a largely unsuccessful merger with Compaq in 2002, going against the wishes of company founder Walter Hewlett. Asked by the board of directors to step down in 2005, Fiorina left with $21 million in cash, plus stock and pension benefits worth another $19 million. According to HP executive compensation rules, departing executives are entitled to no more than 2.99 times their base salary; anything more requires stockholder approval. Fiorina's parachute was more than that, so the stockholders filed a class action suit (a federal judge dismissed it in April 2008). Fiorina is now a Fox Business Network contributor and a top economic advisor to Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
James Kilts James Kilts wasn't fired from The Gillette Co., he just lost his job. When Procter & Gamble absorbed Gillette in 2005, the CEO position was made redundant. So Kilts took a $165 million payout, plus another $13 million to cover the transaction's resulting taxes. Suddenly, unemployment didn't seem so bad.
Henry McKinnell A word of advice for future CEOs: don't give yourself an enormous pay raise when your publicly-traded company's share price is falling. That's what Henry McKinnell did as CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, taking a 72% pay increase in 2005 as its company struggled to reduce costs in light of projected earnings losses. When McKinnell left Pfizer in 2006, the stock's price had declined by 46%; he still managed to take home an $83 million pension anyway. An airplane flew over the company after his departure trailing a banner that read "Give It Back, Hank!"