BOSTON (TheStreet) -- CEOs are the point men when layoffs are needed, but some approach job slashing as regrettable but necessary while others relish the role -- and draw fire for boosting their bonus with every pink slip.
The recession underscored the fact that no company, no matter how big or market-cornering, is immune to wide-scale layoffs. On one day alone -- Jan. 26, 2009 -- a dozen companies announced the slashing of more than 60,000 jobs. Among the top-name companies were General Motors (GM) , Home Depot (HD) and Sprint (S) . Even Microsoft (MSFT) , for the first time in the company's history, announced a sizable job force reduction -- 5,000 workers. In total, more than 187,550 jobs were lost that month.
The progressive advocacy group The Institute for Policy Studies issued a report last year that took aim at CEOs who profited personally while presiding over layoffs.
CEOs of the 50 firms that have laid off the most workers since the onset of the economic crisis took home 42% more pay in 2009 than their peers at S&P 500 firms, according to the study, CEO Pay and the Great Recession
"The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEOs in our layoff leader survey could provide average unemployment benefits to 37,759 workers for an entire year -- or nearly a month of benefits for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off," it reads. "CEOs are squeezing workers to boost short-term profits and fatten their own paychecks," added lead author Sarah Anderson.
According to its calculations, the 50 top CEO layoff leaders got $12 million on average in 2009, compared with the S&P 500 average of $8.5 million. Each of the corporations surveyed let go at least 3,000 workers between November 2008 and April 2010. Seventy-two percent of the firms announced mass layoffs at a time of positive earnings reports.
Among the CEOs they singled out were Fred Hassan, who got a $33 million payout when his firm, Schering-Plough, merged with Merck (MRK) in late 2009 while 16,000 workers got pink slips. William Weldon, of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) , was similarly criticized for taking home $25.6 million while his company cut 9,000 jobs.
Although some companies have once again began stockpiling jobs, others still face the prospect of bleeding bodies.
Back in 2002, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (CSCO) , presided over the elimination of 2,000 jobs. Present day, looking to cut more than $1 billion from its budgets, he may be forced to pull the trigger on as many as 3,000 to 4,000 additional layoffs, upward of 5% of its total workforce.
Cisco has yet to confirm its plans -- the estimated job losses have been proposed by analysts who follow the company -- but it has set the stage. In a May conference call with analysts, Cisco COO Gary Moore spoke of a need for the company to move away from areas where it isn't a market leader.
That strategy manifested itself when Cisco earlier this year shuttered its Flip video camera unit, laying off 550 workers. The company bought Flip in 2009 for $590 million.
The following are some of the prominent CEOs who have had to take on the added role of large-scale "job killers."
Cuts: Dunlap holds a special place in the pantheon of layoffs. For him it's not about the numbers -- although it could certainly be about percentages -- but about style.
Known as "Chainsaw Al" for his aggressive downsizing efforts, Dunlap was a layoff machine. It was a knack for unemotional streamlining that has defined him -- to the extent that a reporter for the radio show This American Life recently administered him a law enforcement-approved test to see if he was literally a psychopath.
In 1995, Scott Paper sold to Kimberly-Clark (KMB) for $7.8 billion and Dunlap rode into the sunset with a $100 million compensation package. He later served as chairman and CFO of Sunbeam, where his brutal management style was bad for employees but great for shareholders. During his time with the company he eliminated nearly half of its 12,000 workforce.
"I had a corporation where every person stood the chance of losing their job, so, I got rid of 35% of the people," he said in a 2006 PBS interview. "But 65% of the people have a more secure future than they've ever had."
"Neutron Jack" was not intended as a compliment, even if former GE (GE) CEO Jack Welch might have taken some pride in it. It was bestowed on the brash leader in response to his self-made role of explosive executioner.
Welch had a strategy for maintaining excellence that revolved around an annual purging of what he saw as the 10% of his workforce that was the most underperforming. During his first seven years at the helm of GE, he presided over the dismissal or layoff of more than 100,000 employees.
Henderson, who resigned in December 2009, was General Motors' CEO when the companies already failing fortunes grew worse and worse.
From November 2008 to April 1, 2010, the company laid off 75,733 workers, according to the IPS tally. Other estimates, adding the impact of dealerships ordered to close, put the total job losses above the 100,000 mark.
Throughout the recession and financial sector crisis, Citigroup (C) under Pandit's purview reduced its workforce by more than 75,000 by a combination of job reductions and buyouts.
At the core of that budget-reducing move was the November 2008 announcement of more than 52,000 layoffs that came on the heels of 9,000 job cuts earlier that year.
From November 2008 through March 2010, IBM (IBM) CEO Samuel Palisano presided over the loss of 7,800 jobs, according to the IPS study. As painful as those cuts may have been, they pale in comparison with one of the largest job purges ever made by a U.S. company.
Palisano's predecessor, Lou Gerstner, who took over the then floundering company in 1993, was responsible for more than 60,000 layoffs that year.
Bank of America
Like Citigroup, Bank of America's (BAC) fortunes suffered during the time of crashing markets and banking bailouts. Under former CEO Ken Lewis, it cut its workforce by 35,000 during the peak of the recession.
A driving factor for those cuts was the acquisition and integration of Merrill Lynch. In total, nearly 10% of the combined workforce was slashed.
For former employees of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) who were summarily presented with a pink slip in recent years, there may have been some consolation that the hatchet man faced the ax himself.
Last year, H-P CEO Mark Hurd was shown the door after questions arose about business expense improprieties and a personal relationship with a vendor who was a former reality TV star.
On Sept. 15, 2008, a day that lives in infamy for the Lehman Brothers collapse and recession catalyst stock market crash, H-P announced that it would cut roughly 24,600 jobs from its payroll, a casualty of its $13.9 billion acquisition of Electronic Data Systems. Those cuts represented 7.5% of its total workforce. Last summer, another 9,000 positions were eliminated, approximately 6,000 of them U.S.-based.
A drop in demand for the heavy equipment manufactured by Caterpillar (CAT) hit workers in Middle America hard during the recession and the lingering economic slowdown that followed it.
From 2008 through last year, Owens, then CEO, oversaw the shedding of nearly 27,500 employees.
"Can you hear me now? Good. You're fired."
That may not be exactly how things went down as Verizon (VZ) reduced its payroll, but under Seidenberg's watch, from 2008 through last year, the company parted ways with more than 21,000 employees.
The job losses might have been even worse, were it not for a 2008 government bailout of more than $1.5 billion -- a helping hand that proved controversial in light of comments Seidenberg had made to The Wall Street Journal where he chided companies that needed such assistance. The headline of that piece: "Verizon CEO: No Bailout for Me, Thanks."
Kindler, former CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (PFE) , inherited a company widely viewed as in disarray back in 2006. As he oversaw a companywide reorganization, intended to shave as much as $2 billion from the bottom line, layoffs became a necessity.
Added to the mix were concerns over the financial impact of the expiration of hit drug Lipitor's patent protection (this month) and a merger with rival Wyeth in 2009. Cost-cutting and reducing redundancies led to nearly 20,000 being put out of work -- a hard pill for many to swallow. In total more than 50,000 jobs were cut by American drug companies last year.
—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.