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Company spending on the benefit has climbed 50% since before the pandemic

Wed, Jan 24, 2024 12:57pmGrey Clock 5 min

One of the flashiest executive perks has roared back since the onset of the pandemic: free personal travel on the company jet.

Companies in the S&P 500 spent $65 million for executives to use corporate jets for personal travel in 2022, up about 50% from prepandemic levels three years earlier, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. Early signs suggest the trend continued last year.

Overall, the number of big companies providing the perk rose about 14% since 2019, to 216 in 2022, figures from executive-data firmEquilar show. The number of executives receiving free flights grew nearly 25%, to 427.

Most companies report executive pay and perks in the spring.

Meta Platforms spent $6.6 million in 2022 on personal flights for Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and his then-lieutenant, Sheryl Sandberg—up about 55% from 2019, the Journal found. Casino company Las Vegas Sands spent $3.2 million on flights for four executives, more than double its annual expense in any year since 2015. Exelon, which owns Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison utility, more than tripled its spending on the perk since 2019.

Company jets have long symbolized corporate success and, to critics, excess. Companies typically say flying corporate is safer, healthier and more efficient. Some companies—including Cardinal Health, Raymond James Financial and Hormel Foods—added or expanded the perk in 2020 or 2021, citing pandemic health and safety concerns. Most spending growth came at companies already paying for personal flights in 2019.

Palo Alto Networks began subsidizing personal flights for CEO Nikesh Arora in the year ended July 2022, spending about $650,000. That total rose to $1.8 million in its most recent fiscal year, plus a further $286,000 to cover his tax bill for the perk, the cybersecurity company said in an October securities filing.

The company said in filings that its board requires Arora to fly corporate in response to a security consultant’s report. “There was a bona fide, business-related security concern for Mr. Arora and credible threat actors existed with both the willingness and resources necessary for conducting an attack on Mr. Arora,” it said.

Companies report spending on flights they can’t classify as business-related, including trips to board meetings for other companies or commuting from distant residences. Some give executives a fixed personal-flight allowance in hours or dollars, and require reimbursement beyond that.

The sums have little financial impact on most giant corporations, even when annual flight bills exceed a million dollars. Critics say the free flights indicate directors too eager to please top executives.

“The vast majority of S&P 500 companies do not offer this perk,” said Rosanna Landis Weaver, an executive-pay analyst at As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder-advocacy group that has produced annual lists of CEOs it considers overpaid.

The Journal’s analysis reflects what companies disclose in securities filings, typically in footnotes to annual proxy statements. Federal rules generally require companies to itemize the perk for each top executive if it costs the company $25,000 or more in a year.

PepsiCo spent $776,000 on personal flights for five executives in 2022, double what it paid for the perk in 2019. Two-thirds of the spending subsidized flights by CEO Ramon Laguarta, who is required to use company aircraft for personal flights for safety and efficiency reasons. In an interview last spring, Laguarta said he sometimes ended business trips to Europe by flying to visit his mother in his native Barcelona. She died later in the year, in her 90s.

A PepsiCo spokesman said the company jet allows executives to reach remote facilities.

Personal jet use can draw investor and regulatory scrutiny. It contributed to the ouster of Credit Suisse’s chairman in 2022.

In June, tool maker Stanley Black & Decker settled Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it failed to disclose $1.3 million in perks for four executives and a director, mostly their use of company aircraft, from 2017 through 2020. In 2020, Hilton Worldwide Holdings settled SEC charges that it didn’t disclose $1.7 million in perks over four years, in part by underreporting costs for CEO Christopher Nassetta’s personal flights by 87%in two of those years. Hilton paid a $600,000 penalty.

Both companies settled without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

Stanley Black & Decker said it raised the errors with the SEC and settled without a fine. In 2022, Stanley Black & Decker reported spending nearly $143,500 on personal flights for former CEO James Loree and his successor, Donald Allan Jr., primarily to fly to outside board meetings or from second homes to work.

Hilton cited higher fuel prices in reporting about $500,000 in flights for Nassetta in 2022.

Spending on executives’ personal travel outpaced overall growth in business-jet traffic. Takeoffs and landings are up by about 19% since 2019, after dropping sharply in 2020, Federal Aviation Administration data show. Corporate spending on the perk rose 52%, the Journal found.

Higher fuel costs in 2022 contributed to the increase in spending, and there is little indication of a slowdown last year. Of the 15 S&P 500 companies that have reported spending on the perk in fiscal years ended in the second half of 2023, 10 said they increased spending, including three that didn’t report the perk a year earlier, securities filings show.

Sixteen companies that started paying for personal flights during the pandemic have since stopped. An additional 31 continued spending into 2022, with a median of $124,000. Accenture, Palo Alto Networks and concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment reported spending more than $500,000 apiece.

In 2020, Julie Sweet’s first full year as CEO, Accenture capped annual spending for her personal flights at $200,000, then doubled it the next year. Accenture raised the cap to $600,000 in its year that ended Aug. 31, when it spent about $575,000 on Sweet’s personal flights, the company said in a December securities filing.

In its filings, Accenture said it encourages Sweet to use company aircraft for personal travel, citing a security study the company commissioned.

Companies that provided the perk already in 2019 accounted for most of the recent growth in spending, the Journal found.

Meta, for example, spent nearly $11 million on Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s personal flights from 2015 through 2019, and a further $13.3 million over the next three years. Zuckerberg’s company-paid travel included trips on an aircraft he owns, which Meta charters for business, paying $523,000 in 2022. The Facebook owner stopped paying for Sandberg’s personal flights when she stepped down as a company employee in September 2022. She remains on Meta’s board.

Spokesmen for Meta and Sandberg declined to comment beyond Meta’s securities disclosures.

CEOs incurred most of the personal flight spending, making up half the executives receiving the perk in 2022 and two-thirds of the overall cost, Equilar’s data show.

At some companies, other executives are making up a bigger share of the cost. Four Norfolk Southern executive vice presidents accounted for just over half its roughly $370,000 in spending on personal flights in 2022, securities filings show. CEO Alan Shaw accounted for the rest. By contrast, the railroad reported subsidizing flights only for then-CEO James Squires in the five years through 2020.

Shaw may take as many as 60 hours of personal flights on company aircraft before reimbursing Norfolk Southern, the company said in its filings. Personal use of company aircraft by executives other than the CEO was infrequent, it added. Norfolk Southern didn’t respond to requests for comment.

—Jennifer Maloney contributed to this article.


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AACCI’s Strategic Vision for Enhancing Australia-Arab Trade Relations

The Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) is fostering robust trade relations between Australia and Arab countries.

Mon, May 20, 2024 5 min

In an era where global trade and international relationships are more crucial than ever, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) serves as a bridge, for cooperation and growth between Australia and the Arab nations. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohamed Hage, the AACCI has taken on projects aimed at strengthening relationships and fostering development across borders.

This exclusive interview explores the initiatives implemented by the AACCI to expand its presence and influence in the region including the significant establishment of a new operational hub in Dubai. We also delve into how the Chamber embraces education through training and research, its participation in major international exhibitions, and its active support for both large corporations and small businesses.

Looking towards tomorrow, Mr. Mohamed shares his vision for broadening AACCI’s reach emphasizing the importance of the on-ground operations and cultural understanding in building business connections.

-Could you elaborate on the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry, including its objectives and main areas of focus?

The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) plays a fundamental role, in promoting business partnerships and trade between Australia and the 22 Arab countries. As a member of the Union of Arab Chambers affiliated with the Arab League, AACCI focuses on strengthening trade and investment ties, across these countries.

To nurture these connections effectively AACCI has outlined four objectives: facilitating trade and investment activities, certifying documents, educating stakeholders, and offering marketing assistance.

Our initiatives are designed not only to empower trade and investment endeavors but to also ensure engagement with specific sectors that drive these activities. With an understanding of the characteristics, strengths and preferences of each country, AACCI prides itself on its specialized knowledge customized to suit the distinct business environments of these nations.

– As the AACCI approaches its 50th anniversary, what have been some of the key milestones and achievements?

I believe one of AACCI’s accomplishments is the opportunities it has opened up for numerous Australian companies to access markets, in the region. Moreover, the strong bilateral trade relationship that has developed between Australia and the 22 Arab nations over the five decades has led to trade transactions amounting to billions of dollars.

This extensive trade covers industries such as food and beverages, luxury hotels and many more services. Each successive generation, within AACCI has built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors enriching their knowledge base and expanding their range of services.

– How does the AACCI leverage its diverse leadership team to enhance trade and investment opportunities between Australia and the Arab region?

Since taking on the role of chairman, my main focus has been on expanding our presence in the region. This led to the idea of opening an office in Dubai, which symbolizes our dedication to deepening our engagement in that area. We have successfully secured the license to open our first office in Dubai after 50 years, which will serve as a gateway to the GCC and North Africa.

I strongly believe that building two-way trade and investment ties requires more than a degree of business connectivity; it demands having local representatives present in each region. With trends emphasizing strategies the value of face-to-face engagements cannot be overstated.

Setting up offices in the region is essential for the Chamber to truly serve as a link and support system for business activities. Ultimately this expansion will bring benefits to our members and partners by providing them with access, to dynamic markets and diverse prospects.

– Can you discuss the significance of AACCI’s role in cultural and business exchanges between the two regions?

The importance of understanding cultures in our operations cannot be overstated. To address this, we have included a training platform within the Chamber to strengthen our cultural awareness initiatives. This new program offers our members access to modules on our website focusing on global business practices.

Furthermore, we have set up a Center of Excellence specifically dedicated to researching areas like food security and cultural awareness. These research endeavors are essential for promoting knowledge between the two regions.

By combining the resources of the Center of Excellence, our training resources, and the forthcoming local office in Dubai, we’re providing cultural awareness not only in the region but also in Australia. This approach ensures that our members are well equipped and knowledgeable boosting their effectiveness and involvement, in markets.

– What is the objective of your on-ground presence at conferences and events?

Participating in conferences and on ground events is very important for increasing awareness in industries like construction where knowledge of opportunities in the Arab world may not be widespread. When we see projects such as NEOM or notice the construction boom happening in the region it becomes important for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to highlight these prospects. By taking part in large scale expos such as the Sydney Build Expo we position ourselves at the forefront of these advancements.

Our presence at these events enables interaction giving entrepreneurs a chance to visit our booth engage in discussions and learn more about the region in an approachable and personalized manner. This plays a role in simplifying the process and making opportunities concrete.

– With such a diverse membership base, how does AACCI tailor its services to meet the needs of both large corporations and small startups?

When it comes to discussing business it’s important to grasp how influence and vision come into play. Businesses looking to expand are often motivated by a desire to achieve something whether they are big companies or small enterprises. Small businesses typically aim to raise their brands profile while larger corporations seek recognition and market dominance.

Standing out in this area can be tough mainly because the key driving force is the passion to showcase the brand and products on a platform. This determination serves as a motivator for entrepreneurs.

At the Chamber we make a point of recognizing the needs of both big and small players by understanding each members individual situation. We ensure that every member is well informed about the opportunities and risks that come with expanding. For small businesses, this means being aware of the financial demands, while large businesses are advised on the necessity of both financial and emotional resilience.

– How does AACCI plan to expand or evolve its services in the coming years to further support its members?

The importance of having resources on the ground cannot be emphasized enough. Having local staff is key to establishing connections with the communities we serve. Without a presence in the area staying updated on events and activities becomes quite challenging.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we have established an office in Dubai, staffed with personnel dedicated to supporting our members. This local office will help us effectively bridge the gap between Australia and the Arab world. And our members will benefit from insights and assistance from someone who truly knows the landscape.

In Australia we have equipped offices throughout the country staffed by individuals who play a significant role in our operations. This strong domestic network complements our efforts ensuring that we provide support to our members both locally and globally. This strategic approach is crucial, for nurturing business relationships and fostering continental understanding.



Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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