It's unseemly for nonprofit CEOs to make millions

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The story of the nonprofit CEO who solicits charity while raking in a giant salary is, by now, becoming a Central Florida cliché.

There was NorthStar High School in Orange County, which was a miserable failure academically but paid its principal $824,000 last year. That sum included a hefty payout just for Kelly Young to leave her post at the helm of the charter school.

Then there was Anne Chinoda of Florida's Blood Centers, who accepted a raise that increased her pay to $605,000 two months before laying off 42 employees in 2010. Questions still linger about big salaries at the newly merged blood bank known as OneBlood.

Now another nonprofit is earning recognition for a top earner.

Dr. John Reed, chief executive of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, recently topped a list of 20 research-institute leaders as the highest compensated of the bunch: $1,476,406 in 2010.

Most people know Sanford-Burnham as one of the anchors of the Medical City project at Lake Nona in southeast Orlando. State and local governments and private donors put together a package of $300 million to lure the California-based Sanford-Burnham to open a lab in Orlando in 2006.

It was an investment in Orlando's attempt to become a biotechnology hub — and, apparently, also an investment in the institute's high-priced talent.

Reed, who lives in Southern California and oversees both the Orlando and La Jolla campuses, is No. 1 among 20 research-institute leaders ranked according to salary by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

Reed's total compensation grew 68 percent from 2008 to 2010, the most recent figures available. During that time, his base pay increased from $573,793 to $633,542. His bonus and incentive pay jumped from $116,912 to $313,000. The rest of his compensation includes payments to his retirement fund and other benefits.

A Sanford-Burnham spokeswoman said that, under Reed's leadership during the past decade, the institute has expanded from 500 to more than 1,200 employees, including 850 scientists. And revenue from the National Institutes of Health increased from $30 million to $90 million.

"Sanford-Burnham competes with prestigious universities, medical institutes, research hospitals, life sciences companies and other research organizations to attract and retain top talent," spokeswoman Deborah Robison said in an email. "Dr. Reed resides in Southern California, a highly competitive and talent-rich region for medical research."

Even so, Reed earns more than the CEOs of five other institutes on the list with far higher revenues than Sanford-Burnham, and that are also in La Jolla or other expensive markets such as Boston and Seattle.

The Scripps Research Institute, the biggest beneficiary of Florida's $1.5 billion in biotech giveaways in recent years, didn't give Dr. Richard Lerner a raise in 2010 because of the general economic malaise. Lerner, who left Scripps earlier this year, earned $1.3 million.

Scripps reported $424 million in revenue in 2010, compared with Sanford-Burnham's $163 million.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, which had $470 million in revenue, paid former president and Nobel Prize winner Lee Hartwell $722,000 in 2009, the last full year he worked there.

Reed, one of the nation's leading cancer researchers, has received accolades for his work.

And he certainly has a knack for wringing dollars out of local governments at a time when federal-research-grant money is drying up. The state gave Sanford-Burnham an additional $3 million this year.

There's nothing wrong with earning a big salary. But nonprofits that make their executives millionaires lose some of their standing when they consistently have their hand out for more of the public's dollars.

bkassab@tribune.com or 407-420-5448

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