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CEO Pay at Large Caps Way Up Despite Drop in Earnings

October 21, 2008
Related Topics: Compensation Design and Communication, Policies and Procedures, Latest News
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Despite deteriorating economic conditions—and expectations that many companies would pay out less to their top officers—chief executives at publicly traded companies of all sizes have seen an increase in their compensation.

According to a study of CEO pay released Monday, October 20, by the Corporate Library, the median total pay package for chief executives at almost 2,000 companies was just over $2 million last year, a 7.5 percent uptick from the year before.

The increase, while one of the lowest in recent years, was still a surprise, noted Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at the Corporate Library, given the economic developments that began crippling companies in the finance and housing industries last year.

“We figured that the across-the-board numbers would have been flat, at the very least, or might have even gone in reverse,” he said. “But at many companies, particularly large corporations, it appeared to be business as usual.”

To his point, the Corporate Library research found that companies in the S&P 500 awarded their CEOs total compensation packages that increased by a median of 22 percent in 2007.

That largesse doesn’t jibe with the overall performance of the companies. Operating earnings of S&P 500 companies actually decreased by 5.9 percent during the year, according to Standard & Poor’s data.

The bump in pay, Hodgson said, was driven mostly by stock option gains that top executives cashed in last year.

Likewise, midcap companies boosted their CEOs’ pay by 15 percent, while small-cap companies only paid their CEOs 5.5 percent more last year than they did in 2006 (the Corporate Library data were based on company proxy filings from August 2007 to June 2008).

A record number of CEOs also received substantial increases last year. In fact, 29 chief executives saw their total compensation increase by more than 1,000 percent.

It does not appear, however, that the executives awarded big pay raises inflated the overall increases in pay. Hodgson pointed out that 25 CEOs saw their actual compensation decrease by 90 percent or more last year, with at least one CEO—Arbor Realty Trust’s Ivan Kaufman—receiving no compensation in 2007.

Filed by Mark Bruno of Financial Week, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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