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How now, Brown Shoe? (Very comfortably…)

The shoe business always seems a little dull to us, but recently we ran across a reason why any aspiring young executive might want to spend a career there — in the form of an 8-K filed on Monday by Brown Shoe Co. (BWS) detailing a new employment agreement for its current chairman and chief executive, Ronald A. Fromm.

Fromm is officially retiring after more than three decades at the company and 11 years at the helm, giving up his CEO title at the May 26 annual meeting and remaining chairman. But he gets to stay on the payroll — he’s sticking around as a “non-executive employee” at $500,000 a year for two years (with office space and an assistant), according to his new employment agreement. That’s nice in itself, but it gets better. For one thing, he doesn’t have to worry about working too hard in this new position. By contract, the parties

“reasonably anticipate that the level of bona fide services Employee performs for the Company shall be permanently reduced to less than 50% of the average level of bona fide services he performed for the Company over the 36-month period ending on the Effective Date”

Translation: He’s not allowed to work more than half as hard as he did in the last three years. Leisure time aside, there’s another benefit to this: It means the change qualifies as a “termination of employment” as far as his executive pension is concerned — so he can start collecting payments that, according to the last proxy, would have totaled somewhere around $5.9 million as of January 30, 2010 (and presumably at least a little more by the time May rolls around this year).

If Fromm really feels like it (though we doubt any self-respecting former CEO would feel like it), he might get away with working a whole lot less, because getting fired isn’t necessarily a bad thing under this deal. If he’s terminated without cause — and cause boils down to being convicted of a felony, alcohol or illegal drug abuse, or hurting the company materially either willfully, through “moral turpitude” or fraud — Brown Shoe is required to pay out the remainder of his contract through May 26, 2013. Plus, it would have to pay an amount to cover medical and dental benefits; and his options vest, restrictions on equity awards lapse, and performance-based pay awards vest at target levels.

All in all, it’s not a bad way for a shoe magnate to walk off into the sunset.

Image source: Brown Shoe Co. website