What does a steel worker in Northeastern Ohio have in common with a film maker in Massachusetts?
Well, if the film maker has been making film for the Polaroid Corp., not Hollywood, and the steel worker was employed by LTV Corp., they have quite a bit in common.
The men and women who have been making film and cameras for Polaroid for decades are, like many of their LTV cousins, without jobs and facing uncertain futures. Their companies have filed for bankruptcy.
They are the victims of an economy that doesn't give points for past performance. The prevailing attitude is, what have you done for me lately?
There are exceptions: But news stories out of Boston and Cleveland show another common thread. While lower level employees and retirees find that they have to bite the bullet when bankruptcy hits, the guys at the top have silver spoons in their mouths.
In the case of LTV, William Bricker was brought in to save the company and failed miserably. After throwing the company into bankruptcy, the CEO packed his bags, grabbed a $600,000 bonus and headed for Texas.
At Polaroid, Gary DiCamillo was brought in as chief executive in 1996, when the company had 10,000 employees and its stock was trading at more than $40 a share. The company is now bankrupt, thousands of its workers have been laid off and its stock is virtually worthless.
Meanwhile, DiCamillo earned $850,000 last year and could earn twice as much for staying around long enough for Polaroid's assets to be sold off.
Bricker was the beneficiary of a contract that would reward him if he managed to turn the company around or if it couldn't be saved. DiCamillo is cashing in on a relatively new trend in bankruptcy proceedings, one that holds that a failing company should pay key personnel a bonus to keep them around until the very end.
Rationale: The theory is that they're in the best position to maximize the company's value during liquidation. If they're so darned good, and they know so very much about the company, maybe they should have done a better job of saving it.
To the extent that bankruptcy court is developing a corporate culture in which most workers are left to their own devices while a few at the top walk away with packages that will allow them to live comfortably the rest of their lives, the courts are doing everyone but the lucky few a disservice.