Longform

Dial's Dirty Laundry

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Perhaps most important to her success at Dial was the blessing of CEO John Teets. Since about 1990, Teets had been Potter's supervisor. He personally recommended her salary increases and bonuses to the Executive Compensation Committee at Dial. The committee approved each hike.

Potter stayed in Teets' good graces in the traditional manner--she did her master's bidding and did it well. Starting in 1990, her tasks included collection of data to justify Teets' annual compensation package with company directors and stockholders. He earned about $5 million in 1994.

"She started to fret constantly--'How am I going to sell the board on paying him so much more?'" says ex-husband Ingalls, now 52. "Her job was to build a case for him, year after year. And Joan knows what she's doing. He was her ticket to the very top."

Like most CEOs, Teets is known to prize loyalty in his subordinates. Joan Potter fit the bill perfectly.

"I remember Joan before she was a big shot," says Peter Samuell, who married a cousin of Potter and was a partner in Ingalls' consulting business.

"She was warm and had common sense. Most competent. She'd shake her head in disbelief when she talked about the millions John Teets was making. Then he hired her to make sure he got more. She became his golden girl, and she stopped shaking her head."

Teets became even mightier as the company's position improved in the late 1980s. With more power came more money--and even more money.

It was Joan Potter's job to keep it coming.
She succeeded: Teets is the highest-paid executive at a public firm in Arizona. Fortune magazine ranks his pay package in the top 15 percent of CEOs nationwide.

But there have been naysayers. In early 1992, the California Public Employees' Retirement System--CalPERS--publicly asked Dial and 11 other firms it invests in to reduce the "excessive" compensation of executives.

The $68 billion pension fund, which manages and invests retirement money for California employees, holds great sway in corporate America. A CalPERS spokesperson says Potter and Teets defended Dial's pay scale for executives at a meeting in Sacramento on June 18, 1992.

The next day, a Dial press release triumphantly announced resolution of the public compensation dispute. Dial no longer was a CalPERS target.

At the end of 1992, Potter got a $108,000 bonus atop her annual salary, bringing her income forthat year to $326,164.

Stock options--a management perk that pays off with deeply discounted company shares--would push her to even greater financial heights.

Teets attached a note to Potter's 1992 compensation portfolio:
"The future does certainly hold many things," the CEO noted. "As an executive, you must always remember to take time to reflect on each milestone--not just the feats, but the failures as well."

The words were wise. For, as 1993 began, Joan Potter's personal life was in tatters.

"Through all the complications of life--very simply, I love you and always will."

--Joan Potter to Jerry Ingalls,
January 1991

"I will probably never love anyone in my life like I loved Joan."
--Jerry Ingalls, December 1995

It's usually senseless to try to apportion blame at the end of a marriage. Suffice to say, this couple's demise had more than enough blame to go around.

The breakup evolved into a War of the Roses, without the physical violence. In this war, however, typical roles were reversed: The wife had become the breadwinner, on whom the husband had become financially dependent.

For numerous reasons, including Jerry Ingalls' poor health, his consulting business was stymied.

Potter filed to divorce him in January 1992. There were no prenuptial agreements or children to consider, so the litigation revolved around dividing the assets.

A sign that this parting would not be amicable emerged one day soon after Potter filed the papers. She had moved out of the couple's Scottsdale home, which also was serving as Jerry Ingalls' business office. He was in Japan.

That day, Peter Samuell--who was working with Ingalls in the budding consulting firm--says he was lured to the Dial Tower.

"A gentleman wanted me to come to Dial Tower to explain some expenses we had submitted for our work," recalls Samuell, a native of England. "This had never happened before, but off I went. I'm explaining and explaining. Several hours later, I finally made it back to the office--the house--and a guard there wouldn't let me go in. Movers were loading a van. I told him, 'I work here.' He said, 'Sorry, sir.' Then Joan walked out of the house and said, 'Hi, Peter.'"

Potter later admitted she'd removed furniture and other belongings from the house. It wouldn't be the last such event during the divorce.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin