Golden Goodbyes: CEOs Who Scored Massive Payouts Despite Being Fired

Steve Easterbrook

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Hank McKinnell
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Golden Parachutes

Getting fired is rarely a rewarding event, and for many, being jobless can be financially devastating. But for these CEOs, getting fired paid off in a big way, bringing in millions and millions of dollars in severance pay.

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Bob Chapek
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Robert Nardelli
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Leo Apotheker
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Leo Apotheker (Hewlett-Packard)

Leo Apotheker only served as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO for 11 months before he was fired, but he walked away with $7.2 million in a cash severance payment, as well as $18 million in stock. He had already received most of his $1.2 million annual salary, as well as a $4 million signing bonus and $4.6 million in relocation assistance and payments to make up for payments that he forfeited from a previous employer. 

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Hank McKinnell
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Hank McKinnell (Pfizer)

Former Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell was forced into early retirement partially due to investor anger about McKinnell’s retirement benefits. The company’s market value also sharply declined during his leadership. When he left in 2007, McKinnell received approximately $199 million in compensation, which included a $12 million severance payment and an $82 million lump sum pension payment.

Related: Famous CEOs Who Ended Up Behind Bars

Gary Forsee
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Gary Forsee (Sprint)

Gary Forsee joined Sprint as the company’s CEO in 2003, and during that time, he earned a salary ranging from $1.5 million and $5 million each year. He negotiated the Nextel merger that prompted Sprint’s stock to drop from $25 to $7.40. After being ousted in 2007 (some reports say he stepped down, while others say he was fired), Foresee received a $40 million severance package that included a $1.5 million salary through 2009 and a monthly $84,000 pension for life. 

John Stumpf
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John Stumpf (Wells Fargo)

John Stumpf, former CEO of Wells Fargo, left the company in 2016 after the fake account scandal in which Wells Fargo had secretly created bank and credit card accounts for customers without their authorization. While Stumpf didn’t receive a severance package, he still was allowed to keep his pension accounts and stock totaling an estimated $134.1 million.

Andrew Mason
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Andrew Mason (Groupon)

Former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason found himself $34 million richer when he was fired in 2013. Mason’s base salary was just (an unusual) $756.72 per year, so his severance payment of six months’ salary was just $378.36. However, Mason owned about 7% of Groupon at the time, and the company was worth $246 million. Mason also withdrew $31 million in private transactions, meaning he was doing just fine financially when he left the company.

William Dean Johnson

William Johnson (Duke Energy)

William Johnson worked as CEO for Duke Energy for a single day after the merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy. In July 2012, the Duke board fired Johnson on his first day of work, reinstating the former Duke CEO, James Rogers. Johnson received a $44 million severance package, despite having worked a single day in the role.

Mark Hurd
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Mark Hurd (Hewlett-Packard)

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd was largely credited with saving the company, but was forced to resign amid a sexual harassment inquiry. Hurd received a $12.2 million severance payment, as well as almost 350,000 shares of stock worth approximately $16 million.

Steve Easterbrook
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Steve Easterbrook (McDonald’s)

Sometimes those big paydays don’t work out. Former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook received a $105-million severance package he received when he was fired in November 2019. The McDonald’s board found that Easterbrook had a consensual relationship with an employee, but the McDonald’s board later learned of another relationship Easterbrook had with a subordinate employee, a potential instance of sexual misconduct. Easterbrook’s severance contract included a clause that he would need to repay the money if it was determined that he should have been fired for his actions, and McDonald’s brought a lawsuit against him in August 2022, alleging that he lied during the company’s internal investigation into his behavior. Easterbrook returned the severance package in 2021.