It Pays to Be a Comcast Executive

Turning around AT&T Broadband in record time proved to be a personal financial windfall for several Comcast Corp. executives, some of whom saw substantial raises and bonuses in 2003, according to a proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday.

According to the proxy, CEO Brian Roberts received $2 million in base salary in 2003, a 61.6% increase over his $1.24 million paycheck in 2002. Roberts also received a $6 million bonus in 2003, unchanged from the previous year.

Comcast Cable Communications Inc. president Steve Burke -- largely considered to be the architect of the AT&T Broadband turnaround -- received a $176,000 raise (17.8%) in 2003 to $1.18 million from $991,105 in 2002. Burke’s annual bonus more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2003, from $1.17 million to $5.17 million.

Burke signed a new employment contract in January, which runs until Dec. 31, 2008. According to the proxy statement, Burke will receive a base salary of $1.225 million, and he can also receive annual bonuses of up to 100% of his base salary in 2004 and 2005, split evenly between two separate bonus plans -- Comcast’s "Executive Cash Bonus Plan" and "Supplemental Cash Bonus Plan."

Burke also picked up a one-time cash bonus of $3.03 million at the time he entered into the new employment agreement.

Other executives who saw increases in salary and bonus last year included executive vice president and co-chief financial officer Lawrence Smith ($1.04 million; $1.039 million); and executive VP, treasurer and co-CFO John Alchin ($883,000; $882,000).

In addition to their compensation, Brian Roberts, Smith and Alchin also reaped some serious financial rewards from the sale of Comcast’s interest in shopping channel QVC Inc. to Liberty Media Corp. in September.

According to the proxy, Brian Roberts received $7.98 million from the sale of common stock and options he held in QVC. Smith and Alchin received $7.1 million and $4.6 million, respectively, from similar sales.

Roberts also stands to take in $12.46 million from Comcast over the next eight years as his nonvested options in QVC shares vest. Smith and Alchin stand to rake in another $1.58 million and $1.778 million, respectively, during the same period.

Non-executive chairman C. Michael Armstrong pulled in a base salary of $1.8 million and a $2.7 million bonus in 2003, his first full year with Comcast. Armstrong, former chairman of AT&T Corp., joined the company after the AT&T Broadband merger in November 2002, and his contract runs through 2005.

Longtime Comcast executive Julian Brodsky -- who helped to found the MSO with Ralph Roberts in the 1960s -- will retire as vice chairman April 30, according to the proxy. However, Brodsky -- still considered by many to be one of the more astute financial minds in cable -- will continue as a non-executive employee of the company until April 30, 2009.

According to the proxy, Brodsky is entitled to $600,000 in base salary from 2003-04, down from his 2002 base of $837,560 and reflecting his diminished duties. Brodsky also received a $4.1 million one-time bonus Dec. 31, 2003, reflecting his decision to terminate three insurance policies the company was paying for. That bonus was the amount Comcast saved by not having to pay the premiums on those policies.

After Brodsky retires in April, Comcast will purchase his interest in Comcast Interactive Capital Group, the MSO’s venture-capital unit, at fair market value. According to Comcast’s 2003 proxy statement, Brodsky owned a 38% interest in the general partner of CIC.

Comcast has scheduled its annual meeting of shareholders for May 26 in Philadelphia. Five shareholder proposals will be brought up at the meeting: a measure to increase independent directors to two-thirds of the total board instead of the current majority; a limit on the compensation of top executives; disclosure of corporate political contributions; a proposal to nominate two directors for every open director seat; and a proposal to adopt a recapitalization plan that would eliminate supervoting stock.

Comcast has recommended that shareholders reject all five proposals.