Breaking the biggest myth of CEO compensation

David Zaslav, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
David Zaslav, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications.

Higher pay doesn't always mean better performance.

CEOs who receive higher pay than their peers often end up making worse decisions in terms of stock returns' bottom line, one study found. In fact, the highest-paid CEOs did 15 percent worse than their competitors.

Equilar released its annual top CEO compensation data on Monday (it was first published in The New York Times), and the 2014 numbers do nothing to reaffirm our faith in executive compensation schemes. There is no significant relationship between the increase in an executive's compensation last year and a company's returns.

The Equilar list looks at the 200 highest-paid CEOs among public companies worth $1 billion or more. About 170 had both 2013 and 2014 data available for total compensation and shareholder returns.

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The pay levels this year were the highest since the first Equilar study in April 2014, with Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav at the top of the list with $156.1 million in total compensation. Zaslav's compensation was up 368 percent since last year, even as the company lost shareholders 24 percent.

The lowest paid CEO in the top 200 was Christopher M. Crane of Exelon, who made $12.6 million, 20 percent less than the year before. Exelon's return was 40 percent over that period.

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