Thain’s Bonus

A bunch of investment-bank CEOs are dangling from a rising hot-air balloon. Dick Fuld, as we know, held on for too long, and by the time he finally let go, there was too far to fall, and he died. Jimmy Cayne was slightly luckier: he too held on too long, but when he finally let go, Jamie Dimon was there to help break a little bit of his fall. Cayne suffered serious injuries from which he will never really recover, but a flicker of life remains. John Mack and Lloyd Blankfein are both still holding on. And John Thain? He let go just before it was too late, suffered a few broken bones, but lives to fight on.

So the question is: Who deserves a bonus? Jim Surowiecki reckons that Thain’s decision was "bonus-worthy", and implies that a $10 million bonus would not be unreasonable. But none of the others are getting a penny: not Fuld, not Cayne, not Mack, not Blankfein.

Did Thain really do a better job than Blankfein? Maybe, it’s too early to tell. But he certainly looked pretty bad back in July. His subsequent decision to sell to BofA was, in hindsight, a good one. But he doesn’t need the money, and the optics are terrible. If I were him, I’d voluntarily renounce a bonus for this year, rather than ask the board for an eight-figure sum. Alternatively, if he does get that $10 million, he should immediately give it away to loyal Merrill Lynch support staff who have lost their jobs and their futures through no fault of their own.

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