Creep of the Week is a special award bestowed by the Untied Steelworkers on a corporate scoundrel or political bobble-head nodding to anti-worker demands. The awardee must, however, be human -- not a demon, or robot or avatar. This week's winner is former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Expensive Toilet Connoisseur (ETC) John A. Thain.
Thain's behavior has been so cartoonish as to suggest he's a soulless concoction of Marvel Comics. A Wall Street villain: Thain - the bond-shark who spends more on a commode to festoon his office than most Americans earn in a year!
Even James Post, a management professor at Boston University, suggested that Thain was more of an avatar than a human when talking to the AP about him and other Wall Street CEOs who spent $18 billion on year-end bonuses after getting $350 billion in taxpayer dollars to bailout their failing financial companies, "Thain is a symbol of the species. It's a breed that I think is going to have to change its habits, at least for a time."
But here's proof that greed hasn't completely converted Thain's soul into a black hole: he paid his chauffeur $230,000 for a year's service. That, of course, included an $18,000 bonus, about half of what the average American makes for an entire year's work.
The fact that Thain paid his driver more than what a U.S. Supreme Court justice earns probably says more about what Thain thinks of his own value than what he believes the chauffeur deserved. Still, Thain could have stiffed the guy. Which means, somewhere under all that arrogance and excess, there's a human. Thus, he qualifies for the award.
The Creep of the Week prize doesn't come with cash, something Thain will be completely unaccustomed to. This is a guy who slipped his staff at Merrill $3.6 billion in bonuses, including 700 at the $1 million and above level, and did it deliberately in December, a month earlier than usual. That way, they arrived just days before reports of Merrill's $15 billion fourth quarter losses. And the bonus checks got cashed just days before Bank of America completed its take over of Merrill. BoA may well have cancelled all of the bonuses that weren't contractually required because they were, in effect, a reward for losing Merrill a grand total of $27 billion that year.
And, BoA had to slither back to taxpayers and beg for another $20 billion from the bank bailout fund to help it complete the Merrill takeover after it discovered the extent of the losses at the brokerage firm.
Even so, Thain thought he should cash in on those bonuses too. After all, he had given his driver one! He planned early in December to ask the BoA board of directors for a $10 million bump just for himself - until bad publicity made him think the better of it.
Then, just last month, BoA's CEO dumped Thain, placing him among the nearly 600,000 Americans thrown out of work in January. And just after he'd agreed to reimburse the company for that $1.2 million he'd spent renovating his personal office -- including his $35,000 ornamental, non-flushable toilet!
Don't cry for Thain, America. While the typical U.S. worker counts his annual wage in thousands, Thain tabulated his in millions. In 2007, he was the highest paid CE0 on Wall Street, taking $83 million in compensation out of the financially-struggling Merrill. As 7.6 percent of Americans are pinching pennies on the unemployment line, he'll be squeezing megabucks in the lap of luxury.
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