How Green Was My Envy
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Take Dick Grasso. Please.

Actually, I don't think you could afford him. It's possible you couldn't even swing the acquisition of his teeny little toes, or the hair on his chinny-chin-chin. Because Dick Grasso, who is the head of the New York Stock Exchange, is taking home $140 million in cash.

That's cash, not checks. Not performance incentives to be named later. Not stock. Not even livestock. Cash. One hundred and forty million simoleons for his retirement. Even if simoleons don't go as far as they used to, that's a tremendous number of them.

When I started in the working world, for instance, I made about 8,000 simoleons every year. That kept me supplied with canned ravioli and pretty much as many hot dogs as I wanted.

Later I was required to put on a suit and tie, albeit quite ugly ones, it being the '80s, and I earned more simoleons for doing so. I looked up to people who earned more than 100,000 simoleons, and counted them very fortunate indeed. They were often executives whose lifestyle was underwritten by the Company, so their simoleons went further than mine. Still, I wasn't all that envious, because I could see the top of their pile from the top of mine.

Today I make a respectable mound of simoleons at my business job, but they pale, evaporate, and dribble down the side of the countertop when compared with the simoleons Mr. Grasso has accrued in his years of faithful service. Actually, I think virtually everybody's simoleons look somewhat slender next to Grasso's grotto of gold.

Most CEOs I know make many more simoleons than I do, as they should, because what they do is so mysterious it cannot really be quantified. Several of them make between five million and 20 million simoleons a year, which, as I said, is not the awesome sum it seemed in years past, but it's still something. Much of their other compensation, however it is valued, is in options and stuff that can't be spent right away, not like the cash in the Grasso grotto.

These mogul types do their best with their paltry tens of millions, stretch them out carefully to make sure at the end of the year they have a little bit left over to give to those less fortunate, and they're pretty comfortable. But they can look up at $140 million of cash made in one year and sigh. I've heard them.

Movie stars like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez make tens of millions of simoleons a year, and in many cases their subsequent compensation is tied to the way their pictures perform. If you've seen Gigli, that seems only fair.

Is that how it works for Mr. Grasso? If the market goes down, does he get a cut in associated simoleons? Is that why he's giving up an extra $48 million of his well-earned lucre? Is that sacrifice enough to make us all dance around a bonfire like dervishes?

I might.

It is fair to ask, I think, what Mr. Grasso did to snare this share of stock market simoleons.

Did he work harder than you or I did? Maybe. A friend of mine went with his boss to ring the opening bell at the stock exchange not long ago. It was pretty early, and an assortment of muffinry was on hand. Mr. Grasso wasn't there, however. He sent a lieutenant. There are two possibilities. The first is that he had an important meeting at that hour. The other is that he was shaving, or watching TV, or in a limo headed in, reading the paper and having a cup of coffee. Perhaps we'll never know. But we can guess.

Is it because he is so canny and crafty and wise and persuasive that the New York Stock Exchange would crumble without him? That's kind of hard to believe. As capable as Dick Grasso is, he is, like all corporate executives, fungible. If there's one thing that we have learned, it's that everyone can be replaced by somebody who seems at first unlikely and then inevitable.

Is it because he is handsomer than the average CEO? No, it isn't.

Is it because he is brave? That's not it either. Firemen are brave. Public relations people working for oil and tobacco companies are brave. Lawyers for Fox were brave when they went before a judge to argue Bill O'Reilly's position on freedom of speech. But it doesn't take tons of guts to run the NYSE.

So in the end, I think Grasso's green remains one of those mysteries that make the world such an exciting place. It's like a beautiful mountain one stares at, wondering what it's like up there. A cloud formation inexplicably but undeniably in the shape of the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas. David E. Kelley married to Michelle Pfeiffer. That kind of thing. It's pointless to be offended by the vagaries of fate, or to be grossed out by Grasso. Because one day, in this arbitrary world, the recipient of that stroke of luck could be you or me.

Yeah, right.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at