There are few executive perks that rile up the share-owning public more than the use of corporate jets. To be sure, hefty salaries and lavish bonuses generate plenty of angst, but when bosses are seen to abuse their private-jet privileges, there can be hell to pay.
In Sweden, company jets are at the center of a long-running scandal that has toppled several prominent execs, most recently Anders Nyrén, CEO of investment group Industrivärden. The company’s directors “do not find it suitable” for Nyrén to work there anymore, they said in a statement, and will terminate his contract next week. He is the highest profile executive to lose his job in the scandal (paywall) thus far, which is centered on the overuse of private jets at forestry company SCA, of which Industrivärden holds a significant stake and Nyrén sits on the board.
There is nothing unusual about corporate bigwigs shuttling around the world on private jets, but what has rattled egalitarian Sweden is a series of in-depth reports by the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper (link in Swedish) that revealed extensive use of private planes at SCA to fly executives’ family and friends to a hunting lodge, sporting events, and other places with tenuous connections to company business.
The company commissioned independent audits of its practices, which earlier this month found no grounds for legal action but were critical of the “appropriateness” of the company’s policies (which have since been tightened). One of the most lurid details that came out of the scandal was that executives brought their pets on some of the questionable flights. This point, no doubt hard to stomach for the herds of ordinary folks crammed in coach, was mentioned in just about every story about the affair over the past few months.
The thing is, private jets are packed with pets. Taking your pet in the cabin is one of the key features of flying private, according to charter companies like NetJets. “I have many customers that fly with us only because of their dogs,” a NetJets representative told Superyachts.com. “They’d fly commercially when it’s just them and their wives.”
This eye-opening Bloomberg report claims that around 10% of NetJets flights include a non-human passenger, and the share is even higher at companies like Magellan Jets (25%) and Jet Edge (50%). One divorced couple apparently pays $50,000 per flight to shuttle their dog on its own between New York and Los Angeles every other month. Pets outnumbered humans on 65 NetJets flights last year, the company says.
Corporate disclosures about the cost of private jets vary in detail, and determined accountants can easily obscure how often executives avail themselves of the perk (and who they take along for the ride). If taking a furry friend along on a business trip makes an executive happier or more productive, it could be a good thing—it certainly doesn’t add any significant extra cost to a flight. But the suspicion is that if dogs, cats, rabbits, or other animals are on a corporate jet, the executive on board is less likely to be taking a bona fide business trip. And when the general public gets wind of such perceived extravagance, heads roll.