The House That Comptia Members Built


John Venator did all right for himself heading up a tax-exempt, nonprofit technology industry association.

These days, Venator, who served as president and chief executive of the Computing Technology Industry Association (Comptia) for nearly 20 years, can sometimes be found enjoying life at a 400-year-old hacienda in Valladolid, Mexico, he bought in October 2000. The 18,000-square-foot hacienda, dubbed Casa de los Venados, whose transformation is lovingly detailed at casadelosvenados.com, includes servants' quarters, an Italian-tiled swimming pool with a marble-and-glass bridge, a Jacuzzi, a gym and a backyard bar.

No detail was overlooked in the restoration, which also includes a massive collection of Mexican paintings, sculptures, furniture and more. Yucatanliving.com, a Web site for expatriates "living, working and playing in Merida and Yucatan" described the Venator home as "walking through a museum ... sort of a house-cum-private-hotel that will serve as a place to entertain friends and as a museum for their massive collection of Mexican folk art."

It also referred to the Venators as the "gringo Medicis of Valladolid," a reference to the wealthy and famous Medici family, who inspired the Italian Renaissance.

Venator's ability to invest more in his passion for Mexican art and Casa de los Venados got a big boost in 2006 when he received a board-approved $1 million bonus from Comptia for substantially swelling the membership with organizations that spanned reseller locations to community colleges, school districts and, according to one former employee, even the Easter Seals. That year, Venator received a $1.7 million pay package, more than double his 2005 earnings of $676,584, according to an Internal Revenue Service 990 filing. Venator, who ran the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Comptia from Feb. 1, 1989 to Aug. 31, 2008, was succeeded by Todd Thibodeaux, former senior vice president of the Consumer Electronics Association, on Sept. 1, 2008.

Venator has the distinction of being the only technology industry association top executive to earn more than $1 million in single-year compensation (not including contributions to employee benefit plans and deferred compensation), according to an examination of numerous IRS 990 filings for technology associations from 2005 to 2007.

One current board member, who did not want to be identified, was disturbed by the fact that Venator received a $1 million bonus three years ago. "I am shocked and mortified," the board member said.

Venator, who has a main residence in the Chicago area, said his hacienda doesn't represent an extravagant lifestyle.

"I'm not rich by any means. Until recently, I had always driven Chevrolets and bought used cars," Venator said, adding that even his Mexican hacienda is not an extravagant purchase. "That house, we paid less [for] than what you pay for a studio apartment [in Chicago] ... We pay $8 per day for labor, for carpenters, plumbers, brick layers. That's one of the reasons so many Americans retire in Mexico. You can have a gardener and a maid and a nice house."

Venator may not perceive himself as wealthy, but from 2005 to 2007, he received $3.1 million in compensation (not including contributions to employee benefit plans and deferred compensation), according to the IRS Form 990s filed by Comptia. The IRS Form 990s for 2008 have yet to be posted online at Guidestar.org, which makes such data available to the public.

All that for running a 501 (c) (6) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization with total revenue of $40.53 million and net assets of $52.34 million in 2006. The filing also states Comptia paid $10.4 million in salaries that year, along with $1.02 million in pension-plan contributions.

The $1.7 million compensation in 2006 for Venator came in a year in which Comptia's excess (as profit is known in nonprofit circles) was $4.03 million, up from $3.0 million in 2005, according to the IRS. The organization's total revenue during that same period increased slightly in 2006 to $40.53 million, from $39.70 million in 2005, according to the documents. The company also had $42.2 million in investments in 2006.

Venator, who is credited with building a robust certification business among other initiatives at Comptia, is now president and CEO of the Comptia Educational Foundation, chartered to help returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans find opportunities in the technology business. The foundation has surpassed its original goal of serving 300 people this year, Venator said. "We've been extremely successful securing cash and in-kind donations. We will serve 600 and maybe as many as 1,000," he said.

Comptia also donated artwork that formerly adorned its headquarters to the foundation, which will be auctioned off.

Venator declined to release his compensation for heading up the foundation; likewise, Thibodeaux would not detail his pay package to run Comptia.

Comptia Chairman Bob O'Malley said the association determines compensation with the same kind of rigor and processes a corporation would follow. "We do competitive assessments on salaries and subscribe to salary surveys," he said. "We aim to keep our compensation somewhere at, or slightly above, the midpoint so we can attract the talent both from a leadership standpoint and talent from a staff standpoint."

O'Malley, the president and CEO of projector vendor InFocus, which is in the process of selling itself, himself received a salary of $395,000 in 2008 along with a bonus of $98,750 and stock, bringing his total compensation to $843,525, for running a $256 million company.

To put Venator's 2006 compensation in perspective, the average CEO pay package for a 501 (c) (6) organization such as Comptia, which includes chambers of commerce, business leagues and real estate boards, with a budget size greater than $5 million, was $427,231, according to a 2006 compensation report by GuideStar, the leading provider of nonprofit compensation data.

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