February 18, 2021

Bloomberg: CEO Charged With Choking Woman Garners Board Support, Not Rebuke

By Gabrielle Coppola and Anders Melin

The scene described in the arrest warrant is disturbing. In the early hours of Oct. 5, a 46-year-old man shoved and began strangling a woman in her early twenties, knocking a phone out of her hand when she tried to call for help.

What the warrant doesn’t mention is that the accused assailant, David Smith, is the son of a billionaire, scion of a powerful North Carolina family and the chief executive officer of Sonic Automotive Inc., a public company that owns one of the largest car-dealership chains in the U.S.

A few weeks later on April 10, the board canceled performance-based stock grants for the Smiths and a small group of executives and replaced them with options, company filings show. Sonic shares have more than doubled since then, making David Smith’s options worth about $11.2 million were he to exercise them today. That’s nearly three times what he would have earned had he met his target for the original stock grants, according to Dayna Harris, a partner at executive compensation firm Farient Advisors.

“There was an opportunity for a huge windfall,” Harris said.

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