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Dana Holding tops list for corporate jet spending in 2009 review

By Laurie Bennett

March 31, 2010 at 8:27am

Among business execs receiving corporate jet perks, Gary Convis led the pack in 2009 financial reports.

Convis is former CEO of Dana Holding Corp., which prepaid nearly $1.2 million in 2008 for him to jet back and forth between company headquarters in Ohio and his home state of California. Dana also provided “tax gross-ups” covering Convis’ personal taxes on the perk.

Dana’s chairman, John Devine, received similar benefits, totalling $1 million.

The Corporate Library, a business governance research firm, surveyed 2009 financial reports for the prior year’s spending. The study found that aircraft expenses among America’s biggest companies increased last year. Forty percent of S&P 500 companies covered costs for their CEOs’ personal use.

As the Corporate Library report notes, CEO use of personal jets is sometimes justified for reasons of security and expediency.

However, Dana’s situation begs for some context.

The automotive parts maker, beset by the financial ills plaguing the industry as a whole, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy just two years ago. It then named Convis, who had headed Toyota’s Kentucky manufacturing operations, as CEO.

Convis moved to the vice chairman’s position in late 2008, and Devine temporarily took the CEO job until a new president and CEO, James Sweetnam, was named last June. Convis continues as an adviser to Sweetnam, a job that pays him $850,000 per year.

Dana’s changing leadership hasn’t been confined to the chief executive’s office. Board membership has also churned.

Former U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt resigned from the board in March 2009. Stephen Girsky left in July, when he was named to the board of General Motors.

Another vacancy was created earlier this month by the death of Jerome York, a former financial officer with IBM and Chrysler who brought significant financial expertise to the board.

Dana’s most recent proxy, filed on Friday, indicates that even with all the changes at the top, corporate jet use had sparked some discussion in the board room.

The company reported that Convis and Devine “voluntarily discontinued use of the private aircraft in May 2009 and began flying commercial aircraft only.”

[Note: The original version of this story indicated that the spending occurred in 2009, when it was reported, rather than during the prior fiscal year. We have changed the headline and lead paragraph to reflect that the 2009 proxy reported spending for the prior year.]

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