The Masters, one of golf's most hallowed tournaments, has come and gone for another year. And while everyone knows that Bubba Watson won the tournament, the arguably bigger question surrounding this week of high-stakes golf remains unanswered: Will Augusta National, the all-male country club that hosts the annual match, invite IBM (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty to become a member?
This isn't the first time the issue of admitting women into Augusta has reared its head. The National Council of Women's Organizations tried to get the club to change its membership rules in 2002 by threatening a boycott. Back then, the club dug in its heels, running the tournament without sponsors for two years.
This time, Augusta has not just its reputation on the line, but big dollars, too.
IBM is one of the Masters' traditional sponsors, and Augusta National has asked the company's last four CEOs to join its membership ranks. Those last four CEOs have all been male. But on Oct. 25 of last year, the board of directors elected longtime IBM executive Ginni Rometty to be CEO, replacing the highly regarded Sam Palmisano in the position.
Rometty came to the company in 1981 as a systems engineer and rose steadily through the ranks, ending up as Palmisano's top lieutenant. She's generally recognized as being instrumental in helping Palmisano reinvent the company -- turning it from an increasingly irrelevant personal computer and printer manufacturer into the global consulting-services powerhouse it is today.
But none of Rometty's accomplishments matter: In the eyes of the Augusta National Golf Club, Rometty is lacking in one key membership requirement -- Y chromosomes.
The Elephant on the Green
For the moment, IBM is remaining tight-lipped on the Rometty/Augusta matter, and the only thing the nation's most prestigious country club will offer is that its "membership decisions are private."
So now Augusta finds itself in the uncomfortable position of potentially snubbing the CEO of one of its most high-profile and stalwart sponsors -- not a small issue considering the economic challenges the country is facing and the cost of running an event like the Masters.
IBM finds itself in an equally perilous position: Can one of America's reigning corporate titans -- a company that has miraculously remade its name as a progressive, forward-looking organization -- let its brand-new CEO be publicly snubbed with no bold response or defense of any kind?
Arguably, IBM wouldn't even be where it is today if it weren't for Rometty.
What Message Will IBM Send to the Female Workforce?
Brand damage, and the potential financial repercussions, for the 125-year-old company should be at the top of the list of concerns facing IBM's board right now, and the Augusta issue puts IBM in a tough spot.
How is the company supposed to attract employees if there's an obvious glass ceiling for being the wrong gender? And, depending on how this pickle plays out, how will it affect morale for any of the female employees currently at Big Blue with aspirations for moving up the corporate ranks?
It should be noted that Rometty plays golf. And since so much business is still conducted on the links, her being kept out of Augusta National is more than just an academic issue.
Playing golf with the boys at IBM probably helped Rometty get where she is today. To be snubbed by the most important country club in the nation after benefiting so much from the game must be gallingly ironic for her.
There's no doubt that both sides are heatedly debating what to do right now, but the most potentially damaging aspect of this controversy is that it's happening completely in public. Both organizations have their good names at risk in the situation, and the longer it goes without a resolution the worse -- and more intense -- the publicity will become.
If the old boys club doesn't come through for Rometty, IBM needs to consider pulling its sponsorship from future events. As any professional touring golfer will no doubt attest, the pressure at Augusta is always intense, but this year -- even with another Masters in the rear-view mirror -- the stakes are even higher.
Motley Fool contributor John Grgurich owns no shares in any companies mentioned in this article.
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IBM CEO Still in the Rough Over How to Handle Augusta Snub
Company: GAMCO Investors (GBL) Total 2010 compensation: $56.6 Million
GAMCO didn't do very well for investors in 2010. The price of the company’s shares was flat, considerably underperforming the S&P 500 increase of 14% that year. The company manages mutual funds and other investments for private individuals and public enterprises.
But GAMCO had a relatively good year in terms of revenue and earnings growth. Revenue rose from $218 million in 2009 to $280 million. EPS was up from $2.03 to $2.55.
Even so, based on the relatively small size of the company and GAMCO’s overall performance, Gabelli is overpaid.
Company: Aetna (AET) Total 2010 compensation: $57.8 million
Aetna’s shares were down 7% in 2010, underperforming the S&P 500 by a large margin. But Williams’ pay was based on several factors, none of which was stock price. EPS, pre-tax operating margins and an increase in the dividend were the major measures of his performance, according to the board.
The board can make the case, persuasively, that the insurance firm had a good year financially in 2010. The company’s EPS rose from $2.84 in 2009 to $4.18 last year, even though revenue fell slightly from $28.3 billion to $27.6 billion. Williams retired in 2011. The board gave Williams a relatively reasonable package as he left, at least based on 2010 performance.
Company: Vornado Realty Trust (VNO) Total 2010 compensation: $64.4 million
Vornado’s shares significantly outperformed the S&P 500 in 2010, up over 17% for the year. The board says it relies on EBITDA and total return to shareholders to set CEO pay. Both improved in fiscal 2010 compared to 2009 as EBITDA rose from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion. Vornado produced strong financials on a GAAP basis as well. Net income per share rose to $3.24 in 2010 from $0.28 the year before. Revenue rose from $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion. Fascitelli is a CEO who earned what he made.
Company: Polo Ralph Lauren (RL) Total 2010 compensation: $66.7 million
The clothing designer and manufacturer gave investors an extremely good return on their holdings in 2010, as share price jumped 35%. In the fiscal year that ended April 2, EPS rose from $4.85 to $5.91, and revenue grew by 13% to $5.7 billion.
The one question investors might ask is whether Lauren’s compensation is based on fair deliberations by his board. The CEO owns shares that hold 75.6% of the corporation’s voting rights.
Company: General Growth Properties (GGP) Total 2010 compensation: $66.7 million
When it comes to how investors in General Growth fared, timing was a major factor: Did they buy in before or after it emerged from Chapter 11?
The company entered bankruptcy in April 2009, and it became clear as early as April 2010 that it would exit Chapter 11 later in the year. The company returned to regular operations when the final reorganization was approved last November. The gain in the company’s shares from early 2010 to the end of the year was 14-fold.
While the bankruptcy process makes it impossible to make reasonable P&L comparisons from 2009 to 2010, revenue has remained steady. Metz earned his money for those who took a chance on the company’s stock early last year.
Company: CVS Caremark (CVS) Total 2010 compensation: $68.1 million
CVS Caremark shares underperformed the market last year, rising only 8%. That alone makes it hard to justify Ryan’s compensation. The company's financial results were also poor. Revenue fell from $98.7 billion in 2009 to $96.4 billion in 2010, and EPS fell from $2.55 to $2.49.
Company: Verisk Analytics (VRSK) Total 2010 compensation: $68.4 million
Verisk slightly underperformed the market with its shares rising 14% for the 2010 calendar year. For that return, Coyne's pay package is extravagant. Still, Coyne should get credit for a relatively strong year in other ways. EPS rose from $0.72 in 2009 to $1.36 in 2010. Revenue rose from $1 billion to $1.1 billion year-over-year.
Company: TRW Automotive (TRW) Total 2010 compensation: $76.8 million
TRW shares soared during 2010, ending the year almost 105% higher. The extraordinary performance was driven by EPS, which rose from $0.51 to $6.49, as revenue moved from $11.6 billion to $14.4 billion. TRW, which supplies car parts, benefited from the rebound in the auto industry, but Plant’s compensation is reasonable based on the results he delivered to shareholders.
Company: Omnicare (OCR) Total 2010 compensation: $98.3 million
Gemunder’s 2010 pay package can't be justified based on shareholder returns. The firm’s stock was up only 2% for the period. It's no wonder the shares didn't do better: The company’s EPS fell from $1.81 in 2009 to a loss of $0.91 in 2010. Revenue fell from $6.2 billion to $6.1 billion.
Company: McKesson (MCK) Total 2010 compensation: $145.3 million
McKesson’s shares were up 13% in 2010, underperforming the S&P 500. And while its revenue was $112 billion in 2010, up from $108.7 billion in 2009, EPS fell from $4.62 to $4.29.
In that light, it is hard to imagine how the board of McKesson could have justified giving Hammergen such an extraordinary compensation package.