Nobody works for a dollar

Not the executives at Chrysler, Ford and GM and not the CEOs of Apple, Google and Yahoo. Oh, and especially not this writer.

Executive salaries, plus or minus a few jets.
Blasting across the television screen and into my living room last night was a headline that never fails to drive me batty: Execs Say They'll Accept $1 Salary.

In this case, the self-sacrificing, willing paupers were the CEOs of the three biggest auto-makers on the occasion of their $34 billion bailouts, vowing to sweeten the deal for taxpayers by sacrificing their yearly millions.

Except, none of these boldface names actually work for a dollar. Not former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, not Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, nor its CEO, Eric Schmidt. Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs doesn't work for 100 pennies a year either, and neither do the execs of Capital One or Pixar, all who have been the cause for previous "Works for Pennies!" headlines.

One dollar salaries are a PR move: a message to shareholders, employees and taxpayers that the bosses care, and are doing everything in their power to get the company out of the mess they've overseen, even sacrificing their own bottom line to save the company. They're symbolic gestures, kind of like arriving for their meeting on Capitol Hill in hybrid cars after being chastised for arriving at the previous meeting in private jets. They're no more retiring their private jets than they will be opening cans of soup for dinner should the bailout meet approval.

What these "dollar menu" executives actually earn is closer to the millions that their salaries once represented: a sum of stocks, bonuses and other forms of compensation, such as those private jets. In 2007 Jobs made $14.6 million just exercising stock options and Google's Schmidt made $480,561. In 2005, Page and Brin made about $1.5 billion in stock options. How much these automakers will stand to make should this bailout be passed remains to be seen -- through SEC filings and watchdogs like The Corporate Library -- but one can only hope that news channels and papers will give those numbers equally visible and enthusiastic coverage.