From the archives: Marvel’s newest superheroes

In light of yesterday’s big news that Disney (DIS) was acquiring Marvel (MVL) in a $4 billion deal, we dug into our archives even though we’re on vacation and found this post from last year on Marvel.

images12.jpegForget about Spiderman and Wolverine. Sure, they’re really cool and have special powers, but not quite as many as Marvel Entertainment’s (MVL) board of directors. A quick skim of the proxy filed late yesterday shows that Marvel’s board has some super-sized salaries. Three directors made over $300K last year and one — Chairman Morton Handel — made more than the company’s CFO did last year. Just to be clear, we’re talking about cash fees here, which according to this study by Equilar have remained flat as companies shift to more performance-based compensation. At Marvel, adding stock awards makes the figures even higher.

Where it really starts to get interesting is when you start comparing Marvel to other companies. For example, director James W. Breyer also sits on Wal-Mart’s (WMT) board, where his cash compensation was $75K in 2006 (the 2007 proxy is not yet available, so this isn’t a direct comparison), or less than half what Marvel paid him, even though Wal-Mart is a significantly larger company, with a market cap of $210 billion, compared to Marvel’s just over $2 billion. Even Marvel’s lowest paid director — former Ernst & Young partner Laurence Charney, who used to serve as Marvel’s audit partner — took in $112K in cash fees last year.

As the company explains in its proxy, each director receives a flat fee of $150K a year in cash and then gets extras for serving on various committees, with the highest fee — $200K — going to AMPAS (read: The Oscars) executive Sid Ganis, who heads up the “film slate committee”. It’s not clear from the proxy how often that particular committee met, but Marvel’s compensation committee met 7 times, compared with only 5 times for the audit committee, so clearly issues of pay are a significant point of discussion at the company.