Golden parachute unlikely if Hayward leaves BP

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If embattled BP chief executive Tony Hayward leaves the company, he is not likely to walk with a massive windfall, compensation experts said.

Speculation is rampant that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will cost Hayward his job. That raises the question of how much severance he could receive if he steps down.

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BP spokesman David Nicholas would not comment when asked about a possible severance plan, adding that Hayward remains the company's chief executive.

But experts say Hayward will probably not get a lucrative package of bonus money and stock awards that many U.S. companies give to outgoing CEOs as so-called golden parachutes.

"He will be lucky to get a single year's salary," said Paul Hodgson, a senior researcher at The Corporate Library, a governance group. "And even that could be mitigated in certain circumstances."

Hayward's salary last year was just over 1 million British pounds, or $1.5 million, according to BP's annual report. He also received a bonus worth more than $3 million and stock valued at nearly $1 million in 2009, the report said.

Given his recent track record, however, Hayward will probably not get a bonus this year, Hodgson said. It is also unlikely that he will receive much in the way of stock awards, which are often the most lucrative part of a severance package.

According to BP's annual report, Hayward stands to gain nearly 1.2 million "performance shares" under a deferred compensation plan for company directors. But those shares, which would vest in 2011, are contingent on "an assessment of safety and environmental sustainability," the report said.

"If there are shares that are unvested, such as the performance shares, they are unlikely to vest," said Hodgson. "Shareholder return is not going to look good, and the performance condition won't be met."

Shares of BP's U.S.-listed stock plunged 50% in the weeks after the April 20 disaster, but have recently started to pare those losses. However, shareholder groups are threatening to sue BP for damages.

The sell-off could also hit Hayward, who owned over 500,000 options to buy U.K.-listed shares of BP at the end of last year, according to the company's annual report. Those options, which are set to expire in 2011 or 2012, are currently worthless. But they could have some value if the stock recovers.

To be sure, Hayward will not be destitute if he leaves BP. In his 28 years of service, he has amassed a pension worth over $16 million, according to the annual report.

"Retirement is really the bulk of what he will see," said Julie Davidson, a consultant at Cogent Compensation Partners. But it is not clear whether the 53-year old executive will be eligible for retirement benefits before he turns 60, she added.

Davidson said BP's board appears to have more discretion over severance payments than companies in the United States - particularly when performance is lacking.

"This is a contrast to what you see in the U.S.," she said. "He's probably not going to get very much."

The average severance package for the chief executive of a major U.S. corporation is three times annual salary, plus bonus and stock awards, according to Hodgson.

These types of golden parachutes were intensely criticized last year after a number of chief executives at financial firms were awarded billions of dollars in compensation despite exceptionally poor performance.

Hodgson, who previously worked for the London-based publication Executive Compensation Review, said that few U.K. companies award severance packages comparable to their U.S. counterparts.

"In the U.K., compensation committees tend to have a little bit more muscle and shareholders have more say when it comes to poor performance," he said. To top of page

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