April 19, 2022
CenterPoint Energy paid its CEO a total of $37.8 million last year, far exceeding executive pay at peer companies while it sought massive rate hikes for customers already struggling to keep up with skyrocketing utility bills.
A review of executive compensation at large U.S. utilities places David Lesar’s pay in a category all its own. Lesar collected at least double – sometimes triple or more – the pay of other large utilities’ CEOs in almost every case. CenterPoint topped off Lesar’s $1.425 million base salary with more than $3 million in other incentives and compensation plus a $33.4 million stock award that rocketed his pay well beyond his peers. Lesar made 366 times as much as the average CenterPoint employee.
At their annual meeting this Friday, CenterPoint shareholders will take an advisory vote on the utility’s executive compensation – a largely symbolic move, but one investors could leverage to hold CenterPoint board members accountable for responsible spending. CenterPoint’s board has justified Lesar’s inflated salary by billing his hefty stock award as a retention bonus needed to secure his long-term leadership, even though Lesar’s pay comes at a vast premium over other utility CEO salaries.
As part of his compensation package, CenterPoint purchased a home for Lesar when he relocated to Houston to take the CEO position. Lesar also gets a company-funded car and driver and security personnel to join him on business travel. In addition, Lesar occasionally used CenterPoint’s company plane for personal travel – if it was unavailable, the utility spent $132,217 last year to charter him a separate plane.
Before taking the reins at CenterPoint in 2020, Lesar was the CEO of scandal-plagued Halliburton. His stormy 17-year tenure at the energy multinational was marked by a series of controversies: accusations of profiteering from the Iraq War, the company’s role and deception in the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a bribery scheme for Nigerian contracts that resulted in a record fine under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2016, his last full year at Halliburton, Lesar made $17.8 million.
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