Work hard, get promoted, succeed in your new post, and eventually you'll start earning the big money. This progression seems like a firmly ingrained part of the American Dream, and it's certainly worked for a lot of people.
However, these steps aren't absolutely necessary to fatten your bank account, as Washington Mutual CEO Alan Fishman learned last week. When WaMu failed and was seized by government regulators, Fishman had been on the job for just 17 days. However, he was contractually guaranteed $11.6 million in cash severance on top of the $7.5 million signing bonus he got for taking the job. Basically, Fishman netted just under $20 million for 17 days of work, which is a pretty nice setup for the head of a collapsing corporation. (In Fishman's defense, it's tough to blame WaMu's failure on his leadership alone; it seems highly unlikely that any CEO, however determined, could crash such a large thrift in just two weeks.)
Fishman's not the only person to reap huge rewards for relatively little work. Here are few other well-compensated employees who didn't have to put in too many years of service:
1. Michael Ovitz
2. Billy Dee Williams
In the end, that's exactly what happened: when Tim Burton left the series' helm, Joel Schumacher took over and wanted to cast Jones in the part. Williams received a cash buyout to not be in Batman Forever, a deal most of the principals in the critical disaster probably wish they'd been offered themselves.
3. Carl Pavano
4. Edward McSweegan
When the NIH vehemently disputed McSweegan's story that he simply went to work and did nothing all day, he maintained that he never received any assignments. McSweegan would show up, sit in his office, and read to kill time. He took up fiction writing to fill his workdays and published a pair of novels he allegedly wrote while at the office. He told CBS in an interview that he also joined a health club near work "just to sort of break up the day."
The most amazing part of McSweegan's story isn't that he managed to stay employed through this seven-year period, but that he received positive performance reviews from his superiors. He wryly explained to CBS, "I guess I'm good at doing nothing."
Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.