Pack up your loot in your old kit bag

`For the top managers, the size and quality of the new house is in a different league'

MOVING house is, officially, beaten only by divorce and bereavement as life's most stressful experience. But for top executives, the experience can be one of life's most rewarding.

Consider, for example, Jan Leschly, chief executive of the drugs group SmithKline Beecham. When he moved his home from the UK to the US, the company awarded him a record-breaking pounds 833,000 in relocation expenses.

This sum - more than his annual salary - was intended to compensate him purely for the costs of moving. He had sold his house in Marlow, Bucks, quite easily, spending the remaining months before leaving for the US in a pounds 193-a-night Park Lane apartment. And he already owned a house in New Jersey. According to SmithKline spokesman Alan Chandler: "The money was to cover moving expenses and the loss of value on his UK house. It's quite a reasonable sum for an executive on his level."

That view is not shared by everyone. One major SmithKline shareholder said the pounds 833,000 relocation payment "merits a thorough explanation".

Mr Leschly is not the first director to have done well from moving house. Take Harvey Golub, chief executive of American Express. When he was promoted to chief executive in 1992, he had to abandon the house he was building in Minneapolis and move to New York. While the transfer itself cost pounds 5,100, the firm also assumed a pounds 3.4 m loss on the incomplete house - all classed as "relocation expenses".

From joining a new drinking club to paying the kids' school fees, directors' claims can be endless. While the average relocated executive chalks up pounds 25,000 in expenses, claims shoot up at senior level, as Andersen Consulting's Colin Langley explains:

"For top management, the size and the quality of the new house is entirely different. Key executives need to entertain their clients, and this requires a sizeable property. Also, you need to look at currency compensation, to ensure that the spending power remains the same over there as it was over here. And if the whole family is moving then fees for international schools must be looked at, and usually the company pays for two trips home a year. It can all add up to six figures quite easily."

But even moving from one area of England to another can bring a financial windfall. When Charles Romaine was promoted to chief executive of HTV in 1991, a switch from Berkshire to Bristol netted him pounds 118,000 in relocation expenses alone. In an unusual step, HTV decided that the fall in value of Mr Romaine's pounds 250,000 home should be redressed by the company. When he still couldn't sell the house, HTV threw in another pounds 64,000.

HTV was as generous to Mr Romaine's successor, Chris Rowlands. He picked up relocation expenses of pounds 78,815 when he moved house from the Midlands to Cardiff. The sum was to help bridge the gap between the pounds 240,000 he paid for his house and the pounds 171,000 he sold it for.

Mr Rowlands' home was bought by one of the many relocation companies which have sprung up to exploit the growing corporate need to uproot key executives. Agents like Lloyds' Black Horse and ARC Relocations offer a "guaranteed sale" service, where they borrow money to buy the house and the employer pays both the interest on the loan and any losses incurred in selling the house. But, as ARC's Nigel Passingham says, when it comes to average executives, companies are far less inclined to cover negative equity.

"Companies are proving more reluctant than ever to spend money on middle- ranking executives," he says. "Any extra money for loss of property value is very, very unusual."

The idiosyncrasies of relocation expenses reach beyond the private sector. Last month, Hartlepool General Hospital paid pounds 2,300 in "relocation expenses" to transport a Rottweil-er and an eight-year-old truck across the Atlantic from Missouri because their owner, Dr Craig Baldwin, refused to move without them. As a consultant anaesthetist, he was earning pounds 200,000 in the US and took a 70 per cent drop in salary to take the job. When he said that dog and truck were prerequisites to his taking the job, they didn't argue.

"We were in dire need of an anaesthetist," said the hospital's Anne Botterill, who hired a headhunting agency to track down Dr Baldwin. "And as far as the relocation money goes, if it persuaded him to come over, we see it as money well spent."

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