The context of this quote was that he was bringing in a bunch of people from the packaged goods industry into the company and that he wanted to instill “skepticism, pessimism, and fear” of the economic downturn into the corporate culture of Activision Blizzard, according to the Escapist.
While he’s one of the richest CEO’s in America, his wealth is the result of intense exploitation of workers. Activision Blizzard is known not just for massive wage gaps but for jettisoning hundreds of employees every fiscal year. The company has also been accused of fostering a culture of sexual misconduct.
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. Kotick Is One of the Most Overpaid CEO’s in the U.S.
Non-profit foundation As You Sow ranked Kotick as the number one most overpaid CEO in the games industry and ranked him at 45 on the list of the most overpaid CEOs in the U.S. In 2018 he made $28.6 million. That’s 306 times the average wage of an employee at Activision Blizzard. The excess payment was $12.8 million.
Kotick has been the CEO of Activision Blizzard since 1991, according to his Linkedin profile. He also serves on the boards of The Coca-Cola Company, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Harvard Westlake School.
He is also the co-founder of the Call of Duty Endowment, which helps veterans find work after military service. Activision Blizzard has donated over $21 million to the non-profit since 2009, which has helped over 25,000 veterans get jobs according to Kotick’s Linkedin.
Activision Blizzard is known for laying off employees in the hundreds at the end of fiscal years to boost numbers and impress shareholders even if the company makes record sales.
The average employee makes one third of one percent of what Kotick makes ($40 million in 2019), according to investment company CtW. Many employees reported making so little at the company that they had to choose between food and rent.
2. Shareholders Approved of a $155 Million Pay Package for Kotick this Year
54% of Activision Blizzard’s shareholders voted to approve Kotick’s $155 million pay packet in June 2021.
GamesIndustry.biz (via Eurogamer) reports that the decision came after CtW beseeched investors to not give approval to the bonus. However, the say-on-pay vote is advisory, which means that Kotick would have still gotten the $155 million even if he didn’t get shareholder approval.
The 54% approval is down from the 56.8% approval last year and the 58% approval the year before according to Eurogamer.
Kotick halved his salary and target annual bonus in April 2021, reducing the salary to $875,000 and the bonus to around $1,750,000 for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years after the company extended his employment through March 31, 2023, according to MSN. Even then, at the time he was eligible to earn an annual bonus up to 200% of his new salary.
3. Kotick Has Been A Businessman Since He Was a Child
In a profile by Forbes, Kotick’s mother said that his career in business began when he was a toddler and he sold her ashtray to his friend for $3.
As a teenager, he delivered sandwiches, restringed tennis rackets, sold wallets, and – in his most successful business venture as a teen – rented nightspots and threw parties for underage kids. While studying at the University of Michigan, Kotick and his partner Howard Marks started dabbling in the technology industry. He said that he abandoned playing games for good in college.
According to Forbes, Activision was founded in 1979 by four programmers who left Atari after realizing they were only seeing $20,000 a year from a company that was drawing in $60 million. By 1991 the company had $30 million in debt and only $2 million in assets. Kotick moved in and devised a plan to keep Activision afloat. After making some deals and investments, he moved the company to Los Angeles and started attracting developers and buying studios with promises of a fun corporate culture. Soon the company was raking in the cash with franchises like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Call of Duty and Guitar Hero. Then in 2007 the company merged with World of Warcraft developer Blizzard.
4. Kotick Sent a Letter to Staff Thanking Them for Coming Forward with Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
Last July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging that the company fostered a culture where female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation. The lawsuit was made after a state agency investigated the company for two years.
At first, several Activision executives denied the claims in the lawsuit.
Kotick then sent a letter to all employees tanking those who have come forward with accusations after thousands of employees signed an open letter calling for the company to take the allegations seriously.
“Every voice matters – and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future,” Kotick said.
“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” Kotick continued, referring to how the company immediately denied the accusations when the news broke.
Kotick hired a third party law firm to review their policies and procedures. He also promised to investigate every claim, create safe listening sessions, make sure hiring managers adhered to diversity policies, and evaluate managers across the company.
The third party law firm Kotick hired is WilmerHale, a law firm known for working with Amazon and helping companies stop their workers from unionizing according to Kotaku.
Fun fact: Kotick appears in the address book of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire who went to prison after sexually abusing dozens of female minors according to documents obtained by Gawker.
California has since expanded its lawsuit to include temporary workers to the female full-time employees, according to Axios. The DFEH also claims that Activision Blizzard interfered with the investigation by holding employees to NDAs and other tactics. They also alleged that personnel in HR shredded evidence of complaints.
5. Kotick Lost a Legal Battle Over a Sexual Harassment Case a Decade Earlier
In 2006, Cynthia Madvig, a former flight attendant on Kotick’s private jet, was sexually harassed by pilot Phil Berg who created an opressive work environment after she rejected his advances, according to Kotaku. Kotick fired Madvig two months after she reported the incidents.
“The guys are unhappy with the hostile environment,” he said at the time.
Madvig then sued Kotick and Andrew Gordon, who co-owned the jet with Kotick. Madvig settled out of court for $200,000 plus $475,000 for legal fees.
A court later ruled that Kotick and Gordon underpaid their attorney, Patricia Glaser, who said that they paid her well below the $1 million in legal fees they owed her, according to the LA Times. The court sided with Glaser and awarded her $938,458 plus $479,898 in fees.