$100 million bonus to Nabors boss for stepping aside

For most of us, taking on a job with less responsibilities might mean a pay cut. For Eugene Isenberg, the outgoing CEO of Nabors Industries, it means a bonus. A really big bonus.

Isenberg will be given a $100 million cash payment as he drops the CEO title but remains chairman of the board.

As we noted earlier, the company said Chief Operating Officer Anthony Petrello will take the CEO post, a move that has long been expected because Petrello was considered the hand-picked successor to the 81-year-old Isenberg almost since the first day he was hired 20 years ago.

The drilling and oil field services company said in a filing with the SEC Friday night it will take a $100 million contingency liability in the fourth quarter related to the payment to Isenberg.

The filing makes reference to pay information on pages 29-31 of Nabors’ most recent proxy statement, where a table seems to indicate Isenberg also would realize another $10.1 million in stock options and $16 million in stock shares. Those values, however, are based on the difference between the company’s $23.46 closing stock price on December 31, 2010 and the exercise price of previously granted yet unvested options and shares.

Isenberg and Petrello have consistently ranked high on the Chronicle’s annual pay survey, with Isenberg taking the No. 1 spot three times since 2006.

But just to put the $100 million cash payment in perspective, that’s almost the same as the complete pay packages of the top 5 executives on the 2011 Chron 100 survey.

It’s also more than the $72 million in net income the company reported for the third quarter of this year.

Put as an hourly wage for a working stiff on a 9 to 5  job, that’s something like $48,000 per hour.

But as we noted back in 2007, Isenberg has been in line before for even larger payouts in the past for just leaving the company. Back then the company could have owed him up to $525 million just for walking away.

Apparently Isenberg doesn’t think $100 million is all that much. According to a transcript of a conference call this week with analysts, Isenberg discussed the impact of Nabors retiring 84 rigs and 60 trucks, plus another 13 rigs from Nabors International.

“The impact of all these is about $100 million of write-downs,” Isenberg said. “Which I suggest, again, we ignore.”

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