Perspective Changes Everything

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the public outrage over Galen Weston’s salary increase of 11.2 million to bring him up to a tidy $11,790,000 per year. With the high cost of groceries these days, it’s no wonder people get upset when they read about what he makes. But when you break it down it’s only a paltry $5,679 an hour. Putting it that way his salary sound a bit more reasonable. Still it does seem like quite a lot of money; after all, it isn’t like the man is a professional baseball player.

As I mulled it over in what is left of my mind, I wondered if it would be helpful for me to make some comment so that simpler folk with limited exposure to world of high finance will be able to see the justification for the actions of his board of directors. According to a company spokesperson Loblaw’s compensation review is a standard and routine process undertaken every two years and overseen by the company’s board of directors. The process is designed to make sure Loblaw’s compensation is competitive and in line with other retail companies, which it is.

I’m sure his increase seems reasonable if you are at the executive level, but I’m not completely convinced the increases are passed down through the chain. Back in January I saw one of the staff pushing shopping carts across the snow-covered Zehrs’ lot in his bare feet. According to the Toronto Star, Galen’s pay is 431 times that of the average grocery worker wage. That could be true but let’s not forget; he doesn’t get to sort through the unsold fruit before it goes into the garbage and those savings must add up over a year providing whatever gem they find doesn’t disintegrate or explode on the way home.

We all know that a lot of Canadians are overpaid, not me personally, but I know several people who make a lot of bucks and they often call on me for advice knowing that whatever I advise them to do with their spare cash will be wrong and if they do the exact opposite they will make a potful of money. Several years ago my insistence that friends and neighbours put all their excess cash into Kodak and Nortel stocks was a godsend to several investors and they thank me over and over every time we meet.

Of course you know I worked for many years on the fringe of the lucrative newspaper industry. Well, maybe I wasn’t on the actual fringe; most of the other employees were allowed inside the building and one or two even had a desk. I was a columnist and as such just struggled by supplementing my meagre income by begging and occasionally table-dancing to keep the wolf from the door. (I realized later I would have been better off with a paper route since some of the Packet’s customers tipped) As I was saying, I was just a lowly scribe not an editor where big money is the norm and editors get to hang out with the movers and shakers in the financial community.

Without dropping any names, I once saw a managing editor coming out of a restaurant. I felt at the time that if he could afford to go out for dinner then he has to be among the top wage earners in the city, if not in the whole country. I noticed at the time he was carrying a bucket of water and a squeegee and the owner was pointing to a spot on the front window. I thought that was odd. Also, I could see his wife inside waiting on tables. I suppose I could be wrong about editors living in the lap of luxury.

Now think about this, if I was wrong about editors then maybe you and I could be wrong about Galen Weston’s personal situation. For all we know Mrs. Weston works the all-night drive-thru window at their local Tim Hortons to help pay the mortgage and the president of food giant Loblaw’s fills shelves at No Frills in the evening to put week-old bread on the table. They are struggling along just like the rest of us.

Since I wrote this missive, Galen resigned as CEO. (I suspect it will give him more time to help his wife around the house.) The really good news is they have hired Per Bank as the new CEO and he is from Denmark. Hopefully his first move will be to drop the price of Feature Foods Herring Filets a buck a bottle.

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