Notebaert deserves every penny
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Friday, May 25, 2007
Why does Dick Notebaert get paid so much?
Because he's CEO of Qwest.
Retirees lose life-insurance benefits, Notebaert gets paid.
Employees lose jobs to layoffs, Notebaert gets paid.
Shareholders' executive-compensation proposal gets voted down,
Notebaert gets paid.
To those bellyaching at Qwest's annual shareholders meeting
Wednesday, all I can say is welcome to the corporation.
Notebaert deserves the $22.7 million he was paid in 2006, not
only for turning fraud-ridden Qwest from the brink of bankruptcy
but for slashing with a smile.
I particularly enjoyed Thursday's Denver Post photo of Notebaert
posing with a shareholders activist, who was dressed in a
chicken suit. "Don't be chicken. Give shareholders a say on
pay," read a sign.
As if Qwest's board wants ordinary shareholders telling them
what to do. Predictably, the measure was voted down.
There's just no use crying fowl over Notebaert's pay. In fact,
the Qwest board members who hired Notebaert should reach into
their own pockets and personally pay him gazillions more.
They should also shower him with perquisites beyond the $757,913
worth that Qwest's shareholders already doled out last year --
perhaps adding floral bouquets with groveling thank-you notes
and free hot-oil massages to maintain his proficient,
Notebaert has saved them all from the shame and humiliation of
overseeing Denver's version of Enron.
Remember, Notebaert was hired by the same self-serving directors
who had hired former chief executive Joe Nacchio, who is now a
convicted felon. By now, most of these folks have left Qwest's
board. But they are all more capable of paying Notebaert an
obscene amount of money for a job well done than ordinary
I'm talking about Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, the former
nonexecutive co-chairman of Qwest who hired Nacchio at the
suggestion of Salomon Smith Barney hype artist Jack Grubman.
I'm also talking about two of Anschutz's pals, Cannon Harvey,
president of the Anschutz Co., and Craig Slater, also an
Anschutz Co. executive.
Then there was Tom Donohue, who has served with Anschutz on
Union Pacific's board and went on to become CEO of the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, where he piously rails against reforms
designed to curb corporate corruption.
Also on Qwest's board were Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel
Corp.; Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator who is now president
of the University of Colorado; the late Jordan Haines, former
chief executive of a Kansas bank holding company; Vinod Khosla,
a co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Marilyn Carlson Nelson, a
travel-industry executive; and W. Thomas Stephens, former chief
executive of the Mansville Corp.
Giving Qwest credibility
Of Qwest's current board, only three members were around when
Notebaert was hired. They are Linda Alvarado, CEO of Alvarado
Construction Inc.; Peter Hellman, an industrial-manufacturing
executive; and Frank Popoff, former chairman of Dow Chemical.
They can all afford to send Notebaert a personal check for
bailing them out of the disaster they wrought.
Flash back to 2002. Qwest's stock was in a free fall. Qwest's
lenders were running scared. Qwest's CEO had lost all
credibility with Wall Street. Congress was pulling Qwest
officials into hearings. The Securities and Exchange Commission
was pursuing accounting-fraud charges. The Justice Department
was pursuing indictments. Class-action shareholders attorneys
To deal with this, Qwest needed credibility. No one on Qwest's
board or in its executive ranks could provide this.
Notebaert was one of the few available high-ranking telecom
executives who wasn't under investigation for fraud, or who
hadn't just blown up a company. What was Qwest's board supposed
to do? Lure someone from WorldCom, Global Crossing or Level 3?
Considering such a short supply of talent, it's amazing
Notebaert didn't get more. Considering what a colossal mess
Nacchio and Qwest's board had created, it's amazing he even took
I am not outraged over Notebaert's pay. But it's too bad all
Qwest shareholders have to pay him a premium to cover the
mistakes of an irresponsible board.
Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
Respond to him at denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-954-1967 or