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April 13, 2021

Executive Compensation at the National Retail Federation (2019)

by Anne Paddock


The National Retail Federation (NRF) is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501 (c) (6) – a membership based trade association  – whose mission is to “advance and protect the interests of the retail industry and to help retailers achieve excellence in all areas of their business.” That’s quite a mission, given the retail environment in this country.  Retailers – both national chains and local – are closing daily.

Governed by 30 board members, 29 of whom are independent (38 are reported on the Form 990 due to timing differences; 30 are male while 8 are female), NRF is based in Washington, DC.

Often referred to as the “voice of retail,” the NRF raises about $60 million annually with most revenue (about 80%) coming from events (an annual convention and about 20 conferences and workshops) and special projects. Membership dues only provide about $8 million (or about 12% of total revenue) annually to NRF. So, this organization is an event-centered trade association.

In 2019, the NRF reported total revenue of $57 million (compared to $60 million the prior year).  In 2019, expenses totaled $57 million.  Although the organization typically spends as much as they bring in, the NRF has managed to accumulate $32 million in net fund assets by 2019.

The organization’s three largest expenses in 2019 were:

  • $23 million (40% of revenue):  Compensation
  • $21 million (37% of revenue):  Travel and Conferences
  • $ 5 million (9% of revenue):  Fees for Services (primarily lobbying)

147 employees received $23 million in compensation, which equates to an average compensation of $156,000. However, only 49 employees (about 1/3) received more than $100,000 in compensation with the 8 most highly compensated reported to be:

  • $4,259,725:  Matthew R Shay, President and CEO
  • $  839,787:  Carleen C Kohut, EVP/COO
  • $  834,375:  David French, SVP, Gov’t Relations
  • $  670,956:  Cristina Ceresoli, SVP, Retail Strategies
  • $  624,221:  William Thorne, SVP, Public Relations
  • $  585,322:  Stephanie Martz, General Counsel
  • $  541,157:  Susan Newman, SVP, Conferences
  • $  442,940:  Artemis Sakell, Senior Director, Exhibits and Sponsors

The 8 most highly compensated employees received nearly $9 million in compensation. If total compensation were adjusted to exclude the 8 most highly compensated employees, then 139 employees were compensated $14 million, which equates to an average compensation of $101,000.

4 of the 8 most highly compensated employees are male while 4 are female.

The NRF paid for first class or charter travel. Specifically, the NRF paid for first class travel for NRF employees for overseas travel.

The NRF paid for companion travel. Specifically, the NRF paid for companion travel for the CEO’s spouse.

The NRF paid for health or social club dues or initiation fees. Specifically, the NRF paid for monthly club dues for one employee (not stated who) for business purposes.

The CEO participates in a supplemental non-qualified retirement plan. Payments to the plan consist of NRF contributions. There was a distribution of $674,638 in the year reported.

Cristina Ceresoli received a severance payment of $365,000.

24 independent contractors received more than $100,000 in compensation. The five most highly compensated were reported to be:

  • $2,107,822:  The Expo Group, of Irving, TX for show management
  • $1,944,012:  Freeman Audio Visual, of Dallas, TX for convention audio visual
  • $1,712,834:  The Freeman Companies, of Dallas, TX for show management
  • $  991,597:  Service America Corp, of NY, NY for convention food and beverage
  • $  932,053:  Bluetext, LLC, of Washington, DC for digital marketing

In closing, the NRF is a small trade association that raises about $60 million annually – primarily through trade shows/conventions.  Half of revenue is spent on compensation with the President and CEO receiving more than $4 million in 2019. What does Mr. Shay do to deserve more than $4 million annually?

To read the IRS Form 990 (2018 for the year ending Feb 28, 2019), click here.

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