Should Former Groupon CEO Mason Pay Shareholders?

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Groupon Inc. (NASDAQ: GRPN) ex-CEO Andrew Mason has a chance to pay back some of the stock losses suffered by his shareholders, based on his huge holdings in the public company, which could be distributed to all other shareholders. That may be the best way to atone for his horrible management of the company.

Mason admitted in a farewell letter that:

I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

For shareholders who bought at the top of the firm’s share price — $19.88 — Groupon has lost about $10 billion of its market value as of yesterday. For those who bought at $12, the figure is close to $5 billion.

Mason owns 7.1% of Groupon’s Class A stock — 45,934,504 shares. He also owns 999,984 Class B shares, which give him special voting rights. The Class B shares aside, Mason’s holdings have a value of $284 million, a modest sum to contribute to all other shareholders. He should not give shares to his co-founders who are complicit in the losses. Together, Chairman Eric P. Lefkofsky and co-founder Bradley A. Keywell own another 24.2% of Class A shares. In total, under those circumstances, if distributed to all stockholders, each would get only $0.32 a share, based on Mason’s piece. Mason could set a precedent for other founders who severely cripple their companies.

There is no precedent for a CEO shedding all of his stock to compensate shareholders for bungling. The usual punishment is a cut in pay. That would not work with Mason. He has made only a few hundred thousand dollars in the past three years. And he has been punished another way. His fortune has been reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars as Groupon’s share price has fallen.

But it would be nice if he made the gesture of turning over all his stock to be spread among shareholders. At least he would be taking real steps to compensate these poor people for the beating they have taken.

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