Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cutting the Cord

What is a Chief Information Officer? Apparently this is what we now call the guy who used to be called something like “Head of IT.” When I worked for a small company, the head of IT was the person who showed up to jiggle the power cord when your PC started acting weird. But last year’s top-paid CIO, Randy Mott of Hewlett- Packard, earned $10.3 million. So there must be more to the job than the jiggling.

Whatever a CIO does, Suburban Propane Partners, L.P. (SPH), a master limited partnership traded on the NYSE, has decided it doesn’t need one anymore. So it asked CIO Jeffrey Jolly to leave, eliminating his position.

Mr. Jolly left with a generous package, but Suburban showed some class here. Really. Not that I much like the deal - salary through July 2008 totaling $330,000, eligibility for full un-prorated payouts under three different bonus plans, custody of a PC and an SUV, and free tax preparation and medical coverage. (In exchange, Mr. Jolly agreed not to sue or compete with Suburban and to let the company humiliate him by repeatedly referring to him in the contract as "he/she.")

What I do like is that Suburban’s disclosure was straightforward. They laid the package out in the 8-K in an unvarnished fashion so that the actual contract, which appeared a week later in a 10-Q filing, contained no surprises. This is quite unusual: 8-K summaries of severance contracts tend to be masterpieces of fudgification.

Something else about Mr. Jolly’s deal struck me as unusual. As is customary, Jolly's promise never ever to sue his former employer for anything also binds his descendants, heirs, and executors. But in a supernatural twist, this one names his “ancestors” as well. I don’t know whether someone can contractually bind his dead relatives, such questions being the province of law professors, but I think what we have here is an anti-haunting clause.

p.s.: The company's gift of a GMC Yukon gives me an excuse to post a poem I once read on Honku, a Brooklyn-based website for haikus about road rage. I can't find it on the site any more, but here it is from memory:

Ice caps are melting.
Hope your Yukon Denali
Doubles as a boat