Bass Pro CEO challenges former Cabela’s execs to give to severance fund for Sidney workers — and pledges to match them

Bass Pro CEO challenges former Cabela’s execs to give to severance fund for Sidney workers — and pledges to match them
World-Herald News Service

Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops’ chief executive and the new owner of Cabela’s, is asking former Cabela’s executives and owners who made big bucks in the sale of the company to donate some of that payout to a severance fund for Cabela’s employees in Sidney.

What’s more, Morris is putting his own money where his mouth is.

Cabela’s employed as many as 2,000 in the Panhandle town in recent years and has been headquartered there for decades. Bass Pro closed on its $5 billion purchase of Cabela’s in September. As the two companies combine operations, it’s likely that some people in Sidney will lose their jobs. Bass Pro has not detailed how many people are likely to be affected but has said there will be cuts.

Morris has now asked former Cabela’s executives who got large “golden parachutes” in the sale, as well as a profit from the sale of their Cabela’s stock, to contribute to the severance fund for average employees in Sidney.

As part of that challenge, Morris has said he will personally match all of the contributions to the severance fund, up to $10 million, said Bass Pro spokesman Jack Wlezien.

Bass Pro has said it already has committed an additional $10 million on top of its normal severance program to help people in Sidney.

“While I know the former owners and executives are under no obligation to lend this additional support, I hope they consider doing so,” Morris said in a statement.

Ralph Castner, who will work for Bass Pro in the same role he did at Cabela’s as chief financial officer, said when reached on his cellphone that it’s something he will discuss privately with Morris.

Former Cabela’s Chief Executive Tommy Millner couldn’t be reached for comment. Mary Cabela, who helped found the company with her husband, Dick Cabela, also could not be reached. Neither could Jim Cabela, who also helped start the company with Dick and Mary and formerly served as Cabela’s chairman. Jim Cabela and the Cabela family owned a large stake in the company.

Bass Pro has detailed which operations will stay in Sidney: The company will keep open all Nebraska retail stores, call centers and the distribution center in Sidney, according to a document sent to employees and obtained by The World-Herald last month.

It also will retain 125 Cabela’s information technology employees and some accounting and finance jobs, although the company did not say how many.

Bass will donate empty Cabela’s buildings back to the City of Sidney to aide in recruitment of new businesses that could employ people there.

At question are other headquarters jobs, as Bass has said the combined company’s headquarters will be in Springfield, Missouri. Bass has not given specifics on what will happen to those employees.

Wlezien, Bass’ spokesman, said that was to avoid making “false promises.” However, he said the “vast majority” of Cabela’s jobs companywide — many of them retail store positions — will be retained.

“Our intent, as reflected by our actions to date, has been to avoid making false promises and we will continue to be very thoughtful and candid before making commitments,” Wlezien said.

Finance experts say the challenge to former executives is uncommon.

“Quite honestly I think that sounds very unique and extraordinary and odd,” said Lee Dunham, a finance professor at Creighton University.

Dunham said he can’t recall any other executives, of private or publicly traded companies, digging into one’s own pockets or calling on others to help average workers in such a way.

“If these people who are going to be fired, released or laid off can get $20 million to divvy up, versus $10 million, maybe that’s a good thing,” Dunham said.

Since Bass Pro is a private company, it doesn’t need to report its finances to regulators or answer to shareholders who might scoff at money being spent in such a way.

Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, agreed that it’s not a common occurrence in corporate America.

“It is rare even for a wealthy owner to dig into his or her pocket to the tune of $10 million for people losing their jobs when a company is sold,” Gordon said. “What will people do with the money? They can’t live on it forever.”