The color of money

Michelle Singletary: What’s the deal when your company’s sold?

 

Washington Post Service

This week, I came to understand the many employees who’ve experienced dread when their companies are sold. The Washington Post is being taken over by Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos.

After hearing the news during a company meeting, the first thing I did was call my husband.

“Honey, you won’t believe …” I started.

I didn’t get a chance to finish my sentence. He already knew about the sale because the Post app on his iPhone had sent him a news alert. The irony wasn’t lost on me, since one of the reasons the Post and other venerable newspaper publishing companies are having financially challenging times is the rapid and electronic way news is now disseminated.

“Good thing we are Amazon Prime members,” my husband joked, referring to the fact we are longtime customers who saw the value in paying for extra benefits with Amazon, which isn’t involved in the sale. We have so many Kindle products that when I call with a problem it takes a few minutes for customer service to figure out which one I need help with.

A friend trying to encourage me about the sale emailed: “Bezos is innovative. Look to him to look for ways to package and market content.”

Nonetheless, soon after the shock that my company, protected and run by the Graham family for eight decades, was being sold, I switched to my personal-finance mode.

What would this mean for my job and — most importantly — my pension?

I wasn’t as scared as I could have been because I always plan carefully. Earlier this year, as I’ve been doing regularly as I get closer to retirement (although I’m a good 10 years away), I calculated my possible retirement earnings. I went online and got my annual Social Security statement, which if you haven’t done, you should (www.socialsecurity.gov). It used to be that you received your statement in the mail about three months before your birthday. But in a cost-cutting move, the Social Security Administration stopped the automatic mailing of statements except in a few situations.

I reviewed my most recent 401(k) statements to see if I needed to adjust how I was investing my money. Was I too aggressive for the time I have left to work? Did I need to make any changes?

Finally, I ordered my pension statement, which outlined how much I can expect to get monthly in retirement as a longtime Post employee (20 years this year). I’m fortunate enough to have a traditional pension plan, although I’ve never let that lull me into financial complacency. I still aggressively invest through my 401(k) retirement plan. After all, we’ve seen far too often that pension promises can be broken.

Bezos has agreed to provide comparable health and retirement benefits to employees once the sale closes. Employees’ pensions will continue to vest.

I decided to read more about the pension assurance by going to the Securities and Exchange Commission website. Under “filings,” I searched the EDGAR database, which is where you can find the documents companies are required to file. I first viewed two documents – the letter agreement for the sale and the company’s Form 8-K, which is used to inform investors and the SEC of any significant events.

Under “employee matters” in the sale agreement, Bezos would get cash in an amount (or other assets, as mutually agreed) equal to the sum of the projected benefit obligation as determined using the same assumptions used in the Post’s annual report on Form 10-K for its fiscal year ended Dec. 31. I then looked at the annual statement, where I saw that we’ve got a well-managed, overfunded pension plan, which I hope stays that way under Bezos’ leadership.

I don’t know Bezos. I know the Grahams. I have always appreciated the personable nature of Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham. As kindred penny pinchers, we share stories about being frugal. I admire Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth, who is also the mother of three. We often trade stories of the pressures of having a demanding job and making sure we have quality time with our kids. Thankfully, she is staying in her job.

The Post has provided me with my livelihood for the last 20 years. Although I’ve had opportunities to leave, I’ve stayed even when more money and stock options were on the table. I just kept remembering what my grandmother Big Mama used to say: “Stick with what you know.”

Now, like so many other employees, what we know keeps changing. If you aren’t forced to change jobs, the company changes hands.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on www.npr.org. Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

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