PAYDAY: GM's Rick Wagoner Drives Away with $20M Retirement

Critic calls multi-million package "perfect example" of frustration w/ industry.

March 30, 2009, 11:40 AM

March 30, 2009— -- Rick Wagoner will leave his post as CEO of bailed-out General Motors with a $20 million retirement package, the company's financial filings show.

Although the Treasury Department has barred GM from paying severance to Wagoner or any other senior executive, Wagoner is eligible to collect millions in retirement benefits from his former employer, according to the documents reviewed by ABC News.

The Obama administration asked for Wagoner to resign Sunday, as part of its restructuring of the auto industry. President Obama said this morning that forcing Wagoner out indicated it was a time for new leadership.

Under Wagoner's leadership, GM lost tens of billions of dollars, took billions in taxpayer-financed aid, and cut tens of thousands of jobs, including announced plans to cut 47,000 employees by the end of 2009.

Wagoner was one of the three auto industry CEOs who inflamed Congressional ire by flying to Washington in private jets to ask for taxpayers to bail out their beleaguered businesses. They returned a month later in hybrid cars.

If GM is forced into bankruptcy, Wagoner could get much less, according to Dave Schmidt, an executive compensation analyst with James F. Reda and Associates. Less than $1 million of Wagoner's total $20.2 million pension package appears to be guaranteed if GM goes bankrupt, Schmidt said. Even if GM is to avoid bankruptcy, Wagoner may need to negotiate with the company's board to access all or part of the money in his pension fund.

"Most" of Wagoner's retirement benefits "will be paid out as an annuity over five years, the remainder is a small lifetime annuity," GM spokeswoman Julie M. Gibson said in an email earlier today. But in a subsequent "clarification" email after this story published, Gibson said that the terms of Wagoner's final compensation were not yet hammered out. "Specifics on any compensation entitled to, or actually paid to Mr. Wagoner are still being reviewed," she wrote.

Wagoner "has worked for GM for nearly 32 years and he is entitled to certain vested awards, deferred comp and pension and other post retirement benefits," the company said in an official statement.

"I think it's another perfect example of why there's so much frustration among working people," said Tiffany Ten Eyck of Labor Notes, a Detroit-based independent publication covering unions. "I wouldn't mind retiring out of an industry in crisis with a $20 million package."

GM has received billions in loans from the U.S. Treasury Department, and recently asked for billions more. Under its agreement with Treasury, it cannot pay severance fees to senior executives. That ban does not appear to apply to retirement benefits, however.

After Wagoner's Private Jet Trip to DC, GM Sells Luxury Fleet

Wagoner began his career at GM in 1977, working as an analyst for its New York treasurer's office. Wagoner was promoted to several positions within the company, including managerial roles in Europe and South America, before being named CEO in 2000.

Wagoner received compensation topping $63 million during his tenure as a GM executive from 1992 through 2008, according to an analysis of company data by compensation analysts Equilar, Inc.

Last November, ABC News cameras spotted Wagoner in Washington, D.C. arriving on GM's $36 million luxury aircraft. He had come to the nation's capital to tell members of Congress that the company was burning through cash, and needed over $10 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to stay afloat.

In a followup visit to Washington in December, Wagoner arrived in a Chevy Malibu hybrid. GM announced plans to sell its corporate luxury jet fleet that same month.

Scott Mayerowitz and Zunaira Zaki contributed to this story.

Contributor Michelle Leder writes at the financial blog

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