An expensive babysitter…

September 26, 2005

What’s the going rate for babysitters in your area? Here in suburban New York, it can run as high as $15 an hour. But in Omaha, which last I checked wasn’t exactly a high cost metropolis, the going rate seems to be considerably higher based on an exhibit to an 8-K filed by Con-Agra (CAG) late Friday. The company has agreed to pay its outgoing Chairman and CEO Bruce Rohde $50K a month to essentially babysit incoming Chairman Steven Goldstone. That’s in addition to the stock options and restricted stock that vest immediately as well as the office space, secretarial support and health insurance for Rohde and his dependents.

Since the arrangement, which begins Oct. 1, lasts for four years, one would think that Goldstone is some novice in need of lots of hand-holding. But a closer look shows that Goldstone is not only the former Chairman and CEO of RJR Nabisco, but he’s also been sitting on Con-Agra’s board since December 2003.

Even more troubling for Con-Agra investors is why the company is rewarding Rohde for what can arguably be called a spotty track-record in the top spot. When he joined Con-Agra in 1997, the stock was trading in the high 30s. Today, it’s trading at around $23 a share. Then there’s the accounting restatements for 1997 to 2000 and formal SEC investigation, which at last count, Con-Agra estimated could cost nearly $50 million (not including the lawyer’s fees).

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