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RALSTON CEO GETS $16 M BONUS

RALSTON CEO GETS $16 M BONUS

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Stock of Ralston Purina Co. finally reached an elusive incentive trigger Friday that places nearly $150 million in stock in the hands of top executives.

Ralston shares closed at $101.37 1/2 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, marking the 10th straight session that the stock closed above $100 a share. Under a 6-year-old incentive program, the trigger released 491,000 shares valued at $49.7 million.The main benefactor of the program is William P. Stiritz, chairman and chief executive officer, who receives 160,000 shares worth $16.3 million.

Company spokesman Pat Farrell declined to say how many other company executives received shares, or release other details of the program that drew some publicity in recent months when the bonuses were almost triggered.

``For executives to be awarded stock for performance is not all that unusual,' Farrell said. ``I think it was the manner in which this one was structured that drew the publicity.'

John McMillin, who follows Ralston Purina for Prudential Securities Inc., said he believed the bonuses were deserved.

``They are not without merit,' said McMillin. ``The company leadership has created tremendous value for the shareholders. You're looking at a stock that went from $10 to $100 under Stiritz' leadership. I look at what the head of Disney gets and all the others and while these might seem excessive, they are not undeserved. It is for a five-year period, after all.'

The board of directors adopted the plan in 1986 in efforts to build Ralston into a high-return company with unusual shareholder value. The plan called for the then-restricted shares to be awarded free if Ralston ever closed at $100 or higher for 10 consecutive trading days.

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