How does Conan O'Brien's severance stack up on Wall Street?

NBC's $40 million severance to Conan O'Brien is worth 15 lifetimes of work for the average American. But it's no lollapalooza on Wall Street.

By , Correspondent

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    Conan O'Brien makes his debut as the host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" in June 2009. With a $40 million payout reportedly heading his way, here's how Conan's golden parachute compares to a few other severance packages.
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"People of Earth," Conan O'Brien might begin his next press release. "NBC is going to cut me a check worth more – much more – than you will make in your lifetime."

His reported $40 million settlement in severance pay does represent an unearthly sum. It's worth:

•About $8 million more than what the United Kingdom, the second-largest state donor, has given to Haitian relief efforts so far;

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•Nearly 15 times what the average American college grad can expect to make over 40 years of full-time employment.

That's not bad. Mr. O'Brien, host (for now) of the Tonight Show, is getting the settlement because NBC decided to move comedian Jay Leno out of prime time and into O'Brien's 11:35 p.m. slot. O'Brien refused to move to 12:05 a.m.

But how does a $40 million Conan stack up in the big leagues?

If by big leagues, you mean sports, then it's hard to top a Conan. Former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was set to make $20 million between 2009 and 2011 after he was fired by the Broncos in December 2008. (When he recently signed on to lead the Washington Redskins, the terms of his contract allowed the Broncos to cut that payment in half in 2010 and 2011.)

How about big business? Former GM CEO Rick Wagoner earned a sliver over one Conan when he was pushed out by the Obama administration in 2009, cashing out at just over $8.2 million per year for the subsequent five years and earning a lifetime annuity of roughly $75,000, among other perks.

Then there's Wall Street.

When CEO Ken Lewis was leading troubled Bank of America last year, he was working for nothing. But when the Obama administration pushed him out, he got a golden parachute valued at $125 million, good for 3.125 Conans.

Bigger even than Mr. Lewis is former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal, who was good for four Conans, pocketing $161.5 million in severance in 2007.

Not all financial executives did so well. Much-maligned insurance titan AIG saw two executives leave within the span of a year with no severance: Robert Willumstad turned down $22 million because of the firm's poor performance under his guidance; His successor, Ed Liddy, worked for $1 in salary (and about $500,000 in perks) before leaving quietly.

Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld earned $0 in bonuses and severance when his company imploded in 2008.

Still, it's a rarefied atmosphere on Wall Street that few places can match in terms of pay. If Lewis dashed off his own press release to O'Brien,it might read: "See you in two careers, Conan."

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