These Execs Negotiated 24 Karat Golden Parachutes

Getting laid off from your job can be an emotionally distressing time for most people. The executives on this list, however, probably celebrated. They got what’s called a “golden parachute,” an enormous severance package with insane benefits. And while these kinds of payouts aren’t common for most of us, we do all have the ability to negotiate severance payments that align with our talents and contributions.

Here are some eye-popping severance packages that have made the news in recent years:

  • Billy Bush received a reported $9 million severance package after he was suspended from the “Today Show” after his infamous hot mic conversation with now-President Donald Trump became public in October 2016.
  • The former CEO of Yahoo!, Carol Bartz, received a severance package worth at least $10.4 million when she was fired for low shareholder satisfaction in 2011.
  • According to unnamed sources, Fox News paid Bill O’Reilly $25 million to leave the network following allegations that he had sexually harassed staffers and guests on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
  • USA Today reported that Roger Ailes received $40 million in severance following his departure as CEO and chairman of Fox News. His departure followed a lawsuit in which Gretchen Carlson, former host of “Fox & Friends,” made sexual harassment allegations.
  • When Rex Tillerson had to sever his ties with Exxon to become Secretary of State in 2017, he received a severance package estimated by Forbes to be worth $180 million.

Hefty as these payouts were, however, they aren’t even among the 10 largest severance packages that were publicly reported. Here is a list of the largest severance packages we could find reported publicly:

Top 10 Severance Packages

  1. Hank McKinnell of Pfizer received $188 million in severance pay. He also received a pension package worth $161 million. During his 5 years with Pfizer, the company lost $140 billion, prompting angry shareholders to fly a “Give it back, Hank!” banner over the company headquarters.
  2. Louis V. Gerstner Jr., former CEO of IBM, stepped down in 2002 with a severance package worth $189 million. He also still enjoys IBM-funded transportation.
  3. Fred Hassan, former CEO of Schering-Plough/Merck, received $189 million in severance pay. He also received a pension package worth $98 million.
  4. John Kanas, former CEO of North Fork Bank, received a severance and retirement package when he stepped down in 2006, totaling $214 million.
  5. Bob Nardelli was CEO of Home Depot. He received a severance package of $223 million after working for the company 6 years delivering consistently poor results. When he was acting CEO, investors were furious with his $113 million annual salary amid falling stock value. When the Board asked him to more closely align his pay to shareholder’s gains, he stepped down. Shareholders were also furious with his severance package.
  6. Ed Whitacre, former CEO of AT&T, walked away with over $230 million. He also received a hefty severance package from his time as CEO of General Motors.
  7. Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, walked away in 2017 with a severance package worth $260 million after a tumultuous tenure that ended with Yahoo being acquired by Verizon.
  8. Bill Maguire, former CEO of United Health, collected $286 million when he “retired.” He was found guilty of backdating stock options to make extra money and was fined heavily and forced to leave in 2006.
  9. Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon, received $320 million in severance pay in 2005. He was praised as creating great returns with little risk.
  10. Jack Welch at General Electric received over $417 million in severance pay. He also received benefits such as an $80,000-per-month Manhattan apartment owned by the company, court-side seats to the New York Knicks and U.S. Open, seating at Wimbledon, box seats at Red Sox and Yankees baseball games, country club fees, security services and restaurant bills.

While a few of these executives were effective business leaders, it’s clear in the case of some people on this list, payment is not tied to positive performance. If you are considering pursuing a severance negotiation, please contact our attorneys for a consultation.