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GM details payout to ex-chief Rick Wagoner

On top of $8.2 million in severance, he will get $74,030 annually for life and benefits, documents shows.

July 15, 2009|Ken Bensinger

It's good unemployment, if you can get it.

Rick Wagoner, the former General Motors chairman and chief executive who was unseated as part of the automaker's restructuring, will receive millions of dollars in severance pay, a lifetime salary and other lucrative benefits, according to public documents filed Tuesday.

Wagoner's package draws fresh attention to the thorny issue of executive compensation at companies receiving taxpayer aid.

Under terms of his severance, detailed in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, he will receive $8.2 million over the next five years once his retirement is effective Aug. 1.

Wagoner will also receive a payment "in the annual amount of $74,030 for his lifetime" the filing said.

The automaker will still cover him under a liability insurance policy, and he'll receive a life insurance policy currently valued at $2.6 million.

The total value of the package is significantly lower than what he would have received had he retired prior to the bailout.

Under Wagoner's previous employment contract, he would have been eligible for nearly $23 million in payments in addition to a lifelong annual payment, thanks to his 32 years of service at the company.

But a condition of the original round of federal funding GM received in December forced Wagoner to take a symbolic $1 salary in 2009, compared with $2.1 million last year. The automaker worked out a new severance agreement with Wagoner this month, according to the filings.

A Duke and Harvard graduate, Wagoner, 56, spent nearly his entire career at GM, rising steadily through the ranks before taking the chief executive job in 2000.

During his tenure atop the company, GM was supplanted by Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's highest-volume automaker, saw its stock value fall more than 95% and reported net losses of more than $85 billion in the last four years.

It was Wagoner, along with his counterparts at Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Co., who went to Washington twice late last year, including once in a corporate jet, to request emergency aid for the U.S. auto industry, which was finally granted by the Bush administration in December.

But under the supervision of President Obama's auto task force, Wagoner finally took the fall in March, just days before the administration said that the restructuring plan the automaker submitted was not up to snuff.

He left a company with an essentially hopeless balance sheet, one that ultimately gave it no choice to but file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which it did in June.

His top lieutenant, Fritz Henderson, immediately took the CEO job, although he did not become chairman.

Henderson had taken a 30% pay cut for 2009 as part of the bailout. But when he became chief executive, he was not required to take just $1 in salary. Instead, his salary for this year remains just shy of $1.3 million.

Through the bankruptcy process, GM shed four brands, two-thirds of its debt, thousands of workers and several plants, all as part of its plans to cut costs and return to profitability in the next few years. The company has borrowed $50 billion from taxpayers.

Last week, GM emerged from bankruptcy as a new privately held enterprise, formally called General Motors Co., which is 60.8% owned by the federal government.

Shares in the old entity, General Motors Corp., ceased trading Friday.

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ken.bensinger@latimes.com

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