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Grasso has the last laugh as he exits the NYSE

Give the money back, Dick

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All told it took about four weeks for NYSE CEO Richard Grasso's insane pay package to become public and then lead to his exit from the Big Board.

In that short period of time, Grasso has been linked with such accounting atrocities as Enron and WorldCom not because he did anything wrong but because of his greed. Ironically, Grasso allowed himself to get caught up in the Nasdaq-style compensation hype he wast meant to fight. The NYSE is supposed to be a place where the old guard maintains conservative, proven business practices. Let those upstarts on the NASDAQ shell out options and have their shares bob up and down.

It's comical that Grasso thought he could sweet talk his way past this scandal. When first reading about the astonishing $188 million pay package, our first thought was, "There he goes. It won't take long." Instead, Grasso turned down $48 million of the package - a brave stand - and then began telling heart warming tales of his meetings with the board.

When learning of his annual pay package, Grasso insists he always utters the same four words to the board. "I'm blessed. Thank you."

If the top brass at El Reg were to lay out a similar package, we would utter something quite different. How about, "I'm shocked. Sign that frigging thing right now. My lawyer will be here in a jiffy."

Grasso may have done wonderful things for the NYSE, but he and the board have managed to make a mockery of the entire exchange. Their irresponsible behavior has caused dirty stories to crop up and has undermined Grasso's career.

Reports have circulated that the board wanted to hide the extra $48 million in Grasso's pay package. The former NYSE chief valiantly came forward to admit to the gross sum, knowing some vulture in the press would dig it out anyway. Various outlets are also saying that Grasso was awarded $5 million for his efforts following Sept. 11. Sentimental notions aside, this is disgusting. What could he possibly have done to merit such a bonus? Since when is there a $5 million reward for doing your job.

The other sick part of the debacle was the way in which the NYSE board backed Grasso for a short time and then rather meekly accepted his resignation. It's these financial wizards who were meant to stop this from happening in the first place. If they thought it appropriate to compensate some figurehead on par with major Wall Street executives, then they should go down with him. We suspect they will.

If Grasso had stayed on in his post, the world would have demanded that he return a huge chunk of the pay package. Instead, it looks like he's trying to escape the public eye and scamper off with as much money as he can, foregoing a career built at the NYSE. Had he returned the money, who would have argued with him staying on? After all, we all make mistakes.

Instead, greed has captured Grasso with full force. He is riding this greed straight into retirement.

A better man would have seen this through and restored some dignity to the NYSE. The financial markets have enough scandal from companies without the markets themselves adding to the problem.

Grasso should return the cash before heading off to Costa Rica for a long vacation. He deserves but a fraction of the NYSE pay. ®

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