Amazon execs swap worthless options

In 2001, CEO Jeff Bezos' salary again remained steady at $81,840. Other top executives exchanged "underwater" stock options for new ones and saw slight salary increases.

Larry Dignan
3 min read
For the third consecutive year, the salary of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos remained steady at $81,840 without a bonus, but in 2001 other top executives swapped worthless stock options for new ones, saw slight salary increases and received bonuses.

The 2001 salary details were revealed in a regulatory filing Thursday by Amazon. Bezos hasn't taken a bonus or exercised stock options in the last three years. But Bezos has steadily reduced his holdings in the company from 41 percent in 1998 to 30 percent in 2001, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Although Bezos didn't take options or bonuses for the year, other executives made out better. Mark Britto, senior vice president of worldwide services sales and business development, garnered a salary of $150,000 and brought home a bonus of $1 million. Britto's salary was up from $116,166 the year before, and his bonus stayed flat.

Warren Jenson, Amazon's chief financial officer, had a salary of $178,675 in 2001, a hairbreadth higher than in 2000. His bonus was $1.58 million, down from $1.96 million in 2000.

Diego Piacentini, senior vice president in charge of worldwide retail and marketing, had a 2001 salary of $175,000, up from $150,694 the year before. His 2001 bonus slipped to $1.23 million, down from $1.66 million a year earlier.

Jeffrey Wilke, senior vice president of Amazon's operations and customer service, had a salary of $143,130 in 2001, up from $121,680. Wilke's bonus was almost halved last year to $533,333, down from $1.06 million.

The salaries and bonuses, however, tell only part of the story for Britto, Jenson, Piacentini and Wilke. Amazon, like other technology companies, offered employees the opportunity to trade in "underwater" stock options--those with an exercise, or "strike," price higher than the stock's current value--for ones with a lower price. Technology companies argue that the practice helps them retain employees, but some Wall Street analysts and money managers oppose the practice.

All four executives took Amazon up on its stock-option exchange program, which allowed employees excluding Bezos to swap worthless stock options in the first quarter. "The company has not previously repriced options held by its executive officers," said Amazon.

Britto exchanged his worthless stock options for 239,998 new ones with a strike price of $13.375. Jenson's exchange netted him 346,667 shares at the $13.375 price, followed by Piacentini and Wilke (240,000 stock options each). Some of the top executives had options valued as high as $65. Amazon shares trade at about $14.

All four also received 100,000 restricted Amazon shares with a price of $8.40. Forty percent of the restricted shares vest on March 31, 2003, with the remainder vesting 20 percent annually. The restricted shares complement new grants the foursome received.

The four executives also received new stock-option grants in 2001. Britto received 1.22 million stock options with an exercise price of $7.93, as did Piacentini and Wilke. Jenson got a grant of 1.25 million stock options with an exercise price of $7.93. He also received a block of 100,000 stock options with a price of $8.55.