Executive perks are not my idea of bliss

Will a pampered CEO take kindly to turning on the tap and finding there's no water?
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There are two ways of looking at the survey published yesterday about top company directors getting pay rises six times higher than the rest of us over the last 10 years - that's 288 per cent compared to 45 per cent. There's "good for them, they deserve it, and the sooner we instil the entrepreneurial spirit into our kids the better they'll be", and then there's the "money isn't everything, I'd rather be poor but happy than rich and miserable". Trouble is I know a lot of rich people who are also very happy and a lot of poor people who are downright suicidal.

There are two ways of looking at the survey published yesterday about top company directors getting pay rises six times higher than the rest of us over the last 10 years - that's 288 per cent compared to 45 per cent. There's "good for them, they deserve it, and the sooner we instil the entrepreneurial spirit into our kids the better they'll be", and then there's the "money isn't everything, I'd rather be poor but happy than rich and miserable". Trouble is I know a lot of rich people who are also very happy and a lot of poor people who are downright suicidal.

The obvious solution is to be comfortably off and moody like - well, like me, I suppose, though everyone knows that one man's notion of comfort is another man's nightmare. I say this with feeling because in a moment of wild generosity I put our house on a Scottish island, that is, a week's holiday in our house on a Scottish island, in a charity auction the other day and someone bid £1,350 for it. Naturally I was delighted, it was a good cause, but my delight has since turned to alarm because for £1,350 the high-flying company director who bid for it will at the very least expect spectacular views, hot and cold running water and maid service. How do I know he was a high-flying company director? Because they all were. Who else but CEOs with salaries in excess of a million a year would bid a grand for a cricket bat signed by the England team or £1,500 for a bottle of whisky signed by Tony Blair?

Big earners are big spenders, and holidays are the area in which they splurge. One company director we know thinks nothing of spending £1,000 a day heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Another takes his family of six plus nanny and tennis coach to America on Concorde every summer, where they stay in a mansion on Cape Cod originally built for the Rockefellers. Top executives don't seem to mind what they spend so long as they get what they consider to be value for money, which is why I'm getting nervous about our holiday house. To me it's paradise, but to someone who is used to five-star luxury it may be a little spartan.

The spectacular view I can do, no problem, and at a pinch I could put on a pinny and be the maid. It's the hot and cold running stuff that worries me. We have our own spring which produces the sort of water they sell in bottles in supermarkets for a fortune. It's pure, sweet and delicious, but it's erratic until you know the drill. Will a pampered CEO who has bid £1,350 to take his family to a romantic Scottish island for a week (as the brochure said) take kindly to the fact that if he turns on the tap and there's no water, he has to run upstairs and hit the side of the storage tank in the roof three times with a broom handle? Failing that, he should ring the plumber, or at any rate the only person on the island who knows about plumbing, and if it's before 10am there's a good chance he may get him while he's still sober.

From all this you will have gathered that the perks that go with being a megabuck-earning company director or even a megabuck-earning company director's wife are not my idea of earthly bliss. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and a tape of Kathleen Ferrier singing beside me in the Scottish wilderness is paradise enow.

On the other hand, I do slightly envy a friend whose executive husband has just taken early retirement from his multinational corporation. He was immediately taken on by a merchant bank as a non-executive director. His duties now comprise three board meetings a year and two dinners in a private dining room at Claridges. For this, let's call it 20 hours a year if you include travel, his salary is £250,000, plus full-time chauffeur and car. "It was my idea to include the driver and car,'' said my friend complacently. "Peter would have settled for £275,000, but a chauffeur-driven car is so useful in London these days with the congestion charge and everything, don't you agree?''

I'm all for entrepreneurial skills, but not necessarily directed towards a career as a captain of industry overseeing an empire that supplies the world with stainless-steel lavatory brushes. I'd sooner be an entrepreneur like my friend Penny, who has a portable kiln in the back of her car, makes ceramic jewellery and handpainted pots and sells them wherever she goes. The gift shop at the Hilton Hotel in Sharm-el-Sheikh was her last customer. Have kiln, will travel, says Penny. Or better still - have freedom, will survive.

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