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The case of Dean Foods appears to bolster the argument that executive compensation moves with company size: The profits for Dean Foods in 2009 were roughly 10 times what they were in 1979, adjusted for constant dollars. Engles’s compensation has averaged 10 times that of Douglas.
“It’s a different company today,” company spokesman Jamaison Schuler said. He declined to comment further.
But some economists have offered an alternative, difficult-to-quantify explanation: that the social norms that once reined in executive pay have disappeared.
This new attitude, according to this view, was reflected in epigrammatic form by the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” which made famous the phrase “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Americans were growing more comfortable with some extremes in pay. Payoffs for the stars on Wall Street, in the movies and in pro sports were rising.
But back in the ’70s, something was holding executive salaries back.
Harold Geneen, the president of ITT, then one of the nation’s largest companies, told Forbes in 1975 that while he might be worth six times as much to the company as he was making, he hadn’t sought a raise.
“No one moved up there, and I didn’t dare do it alone,” he explained.
Over at Dean Foods, Kenneth Douglas was likewise resistant to making more. Most years, board members at Dean Foods wanted to give Douglas a raise. But more than once, Douglas, a former FBI agent who literally married the girl next door, refused.