The results were shocking – if you’re one to fret over the success of another.
A study by Ohio Policy Matters, a non-profit research group, found that CEOs at the state’s 54 largest publicly traded companies earn an average of 322 times their median worker
. The hold-my-beer moment came courtesy of Fran Horowitz, head of New Albany’s Abercrombie & Fitch. She earns a startling 6,565 times the pay of her median worker, the largest differential in the nation.
Predictable yowling ensued. There was talk of avarice and inequality, of parasites devouring the nation from within. The CEOs were “exploiting the pandemic to pull even further away from the people who do the actual work of their corporations,” wrote Michael Shields, the report’s author.
Yet amidst this age-old outcry, another interpretation was gaining steam: That Ohio’s CEOs were simply superior human beings; 322 times better than you, to be exact.
That’s the takeaway of a growing chorus of economists, politicians, and clergy who believe the greed narrative has grown stale. “Borrrrring!” say members of chambers of commerce around Northeast Ohio. “Nobody wants to hear another guy with a man-bun whine about greed.”
They’re putting forth a more uplifting narrative to combat these dark times. It’s the tale of CEOs born to humble beginnings. Through occasional work, social connections, and legacy admissions to the finest universities, they develop superpowers for hoarding money, rising to become masters of the economy, thus saving the stock market and therefore civilization.
“They’re generating this enormous bounty, much like the Biblical story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes,” says J. Warren Osteen, pastor of The Fruit of Thy Wallet, a megachurch outside Dayton. “But instead of giving it away like some kind of moron, they’re keeping it for themselves.”
What critics overlook, he argues, are the unique skills needed to run a major corporation. True, CEOs do little to actually produce goods or services. Yet they face the more daunting task of thinking up cool words like “interfacing” and “onboarding,” and pretending a part-time cashier is a “valued team member.”
In private, of course, they’ll acknowledge she’s not even valuable enough to get benefits.
The best executives possess an even greater gift, says economist Judy Sandstone: “A profound sense of no moral boundaries.”
She points to TransDigm Chairman W. Nicholas Howley, who earns $68 million a year — $40 million more than any other exec in Northeast Ohio.
The TransDigm name says it all, notes Sandstone. It’s a collision of two vague words to form utter nonsense, leading outsiders to presume it trades in cutting-edge technology, such as video games involving wizards. Job aspirants arrive expecting foosball and free vitamin water, only to find out they’ll be selling airplane parts to the federal government at price-gouging margins as high as 4,500 percent.
Howley’s superpowers were evident in a 2017 Inspector General’s report, which found that TransDigm “earned excess profit” on nearly every part it sold the Pentagon. A “non-vehicular clutch disc” may have measured just three inches and cost $32 to make. But Howley charged taxpayers $1,443 a piece.
“Your everyday stiff might charge $50, then feel guilty about it,” says economist Sandstone. “What makes Howley Howley is that no one else can deliver $68 million worth of uncompromising shameless, day in day out. When you’re like the love child of Ted Cruz and the Pharma Bro, there are simply no substitutes.”
Such concerns pop up every year: A recent internal Department of Defense auditfound TransDigm made nearly $21 million in excess profits on contracts for spare airplane parts.
Clearly the CEO-as-superhero movement is gaining traction. Last week, a group calling itself Protect Our CEOs From the Haters attracted an overflow crowd of 14 people for a rally at Public Square. Though most were executive assistants of the leaders in question, it was a sign that the greed narrative has fallen from public grace.