The $100-Million Man at Nabors: The Ticker

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By George Anders

Eugene Isenberg was already exceedingly well paid as chairman and chief executive officer of Nabors Industries Ltd., an oil-drilling company. Now the Nabors board has voted to reward him once again.

The 81-year-old Isenberg has handed over the CEO job to a younger protégé, 56-year-old Anthony Petrello, who has been Nabors’s president since 1992. Long ago, such a transition might have earned Isenberg a gold watch and a nice retirement dinner. That’s not how they do things these days.

Isenberg stands to collect $100 million in a going-away package. He will continue as Nabors’s chairman, so he and the company aren’t really parting ways. A regulatory filing by Nabors explains that the payment is in accord with provisions in Isenberg’s employment agreement.

Corporate governance activists are sure to sputter about Isenberg’s windfall. He attracted attention in 2009 for having collected more than $625 million in bonuses during more than 2 decades at the helm of Nabors. Corporate Library, an executive-pay monitoring service, in 2009 branded Isenberg one of America’s five most overpaid bosses.

Isenberg’s defenders cite his success in reviving Nabors after he took over in 1987, building it into one of the world’s largest drilling companies. Nabors’s stock has soared more than 15-fold during Isenberg’s tenure. By contrast, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has climbed less than threefold.

Nabors’s biggest gains came in Isenberg’s early years, though. During the past decade, Nabors's stock has been no better than an average performer. Apparently members of the Nabors compensation committee, led by John Lombardi, president of the Louisiana State University System, are not the kind to ask: “What have you done for us lately?”

(George Anders is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)


-0- Oct/31/2011 15:53 GMT