Sue Morphet is a highly-successful businesswoman. Currently, she is CEO of Pacific Brands — an extremely demanding role. Despite this, Sue also plays an important role in the worlds of fashion and feminism, being on the Board of Directors of the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, and helping to nurture the fruits of the women’s movement in her capacity as a member of Chief Executive Women.
Given these and myriad other responsibilities, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan’s recent comments on executive salaries are both unfair and untenable. According to Swan — himself on a rather generous salary — “I think Australians want to see a fair system for all and I think they are rightly sickened when they see some executives walk away with large payments and many workers walk away with virtually nothing” (Swan slams ‘sickening’ executive salaries, The Age, February 27, 2009).
His comments came two days after Pacific Brands announced it was axing 1800 jobs, even though the company’s executive received pay rises.
Pacific Brands chief executive Sue Morphet was paid $1.86 million last year, her first year in the job, compared to $685,775 in 2007 when she was the company’s group general manager of underwear and hosiery.
Her predecessor as chief executive, Peter Moore, received a $3.4 million retirement payment that took his total package for 2008 to $5.8 million.
Overall, the 13 executives of 2008 received $15.4 million between them, including Mr Moore’s payout.
In 2007, 10 executives received a total of $7 million.
And so they should.
Whether the outsourcing decision was right or wrong, we’ll probably never know, but it’s safe to assume the CEO and her board agonised about scrapping so much local manufacturing and making 1800 people redundant. Certainly, multi-millionaire model Sarah Murdoch — while enjoying champagne and lobster canapes on the Queen Mary 2 in Sydney Harbour yesterday — expressed very similar sentiments.
In any case, capitalism is a risky business, and steering enterprises on a safe course through the stormy waters of the free market is seldom easy. Those who do manage to accomplish this task obviously deserve to be rewarded, and well.
Finally, it’s untrue to imply that the business class is inconsiderate or uncaring. In fact, 2009 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Director Karen Webster’s thoughts on this year’s Festival are a clarion call: “Times are tough, there is a sense of anxiety and fear that pervades business including fashion retail. When times get tough — the tough get creative. In times of adversity it is only more important to rise above the clutter of mediocrity. So, for 2009 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival bans the bland!”
Sacked workers would do well to take note of Karen’s call, stop their complaints, demonstrate some grit, and get creative.