(Bloomberg News) Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chief Executive Officer Warren Buffett, who has said banker greed helped deepen the U.S. financial crisis, attracts the workers he wants with compensation that competes with Wall Street awards.
Berkshire gave $17.4 million in 2011 compensation to Thomas P. Nerney, CEO of its United States Liability Insurance Group; $12.4 million to Geico Corp. CEO Tony Nicely and the National Indemnity Co. unit gave $9.26 million to Ajit Jain, according to filings to state regulators. Berkshire, which is set to send its annual-meeting notice to shareholders today, said in last year's proxy that Buffett's salary remains $100,000 at his request.
Buffett, whose office in Omaha, Nebraska, is more than 1,000 miles from New York's financial center, endeared himself to bank critics last year by decrying income inequality and calling for higher taxes on the wealthy. Still, his pay practices won praise from JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, who said last month he would bet the top 20 or 30 people at Berkshire make more than the biggest earners at his bank.
"Whether it's Warren Buffett or Jamie Dimon, they all pay a lot," said Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Corporate Governance. "Pay is out of control everywhere."
Berkshire Class A shares declined 4.7 percent in New York last year as JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, slid 22 percent. Both companies underperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which ended 2011 little changed.
Buffett, whose Berkshire stock is valued at more than $40 billion, has said he gives bonuses to encourage managers to think less like employees and more like owners. He told shareholders last year he once offered to pay David Sokol a bonus of $50 million if performance targets were met. Sokol left Berkshire in April.
"We've paid out very large bonuses at Berkshire in the past, but we've always paid them out for performance," Buffett, 81, said in a January 2010 interview. "I love getting talented people doing great things for us, and I'll pay them accordingly."
Berkshire's statements to state regulators show that more than 20 managers at insurance units earned at least $1 million last year. Gregory Abel, CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., made $9.9 million for 2011, according to the unit's annual report. Berkshire's filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission show that no executive officer at the parent company has reached $1 million in at least a decade through 2010.
Dimon, who got $20.8 million in 2010 compensation, has defended banker pay from criticism by lawmakers and journalists. "You don't even make money!" Dimon said to reporters at JPMorgan's Feb. 28 investor presentation. JPMorgan paid the 25,999 employees at its investment bank an average of $341,552 last year, or about 34 percent of the unit's revenue.
"Warren Buffett does an exceptional job," Dimon, 56, said at the meeting. "I'll make you a bet he pays his top 20 or 30 people more than we do. We need top talent. You cannot run these businesses with second-rate talent."