US Markets

Top CEOs made over $40 million each last year

Key Points
  • Average CEO pay at the biggest U.S. companies was up 5 percent in 2017.
  • But increases in executive compensation don't always reflect company performance.
  • Newly reported figures show how much CEOs make compared with employees, but it's complicated.
Hock Tan, CEO of Broadcom
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Early indicators suggest 2017 was another big year for corporate executives' compensation. The median pay for CEOs at the biggest U.S. companies was $15.7 million in fiscal 2017, up from $15 million the year prior.

That's according to executive compensation firm Equilar's early reading of data filed with the SEC. The annual Equilar 100 study looks at CEO pay for the 100 largest companies by revenue, that have filed their proxy statements in the first quarter.

Leading the list is Broadcom CEO Hock Tan with a total compensation package over $103 million. Much of that consisted of a one-time stock award allotted to Tan, but he won't receive it for years, according to the filing. The company has a complex incentive program tied to total shareholder return, and the amount Tan could actually receive in 2021 depends on company performance compared with the broader .

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Broadcom completed its move from Singapore to San Jose, California, this month, just weeks after President Donald Trump blocked the company's $117 billion takeover of rival chipmaker Qualcomm.

The value of Tan's total compensation package was more than double that of the next CEO on the list, AIG's Brian Duperreault, who took the helm in May 2017. Duperreault's nearly $43 million package included more than $14 million in bonuses, $11 million in stock awards and $16 million in options. Most of the options vest in increments and only have value if the company's share price increases from $61.82, the closing price the day Duperreault's appointment was announced. Following him were Oracle co-CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, whose compensation packages totaled $40 million each.

CEOs on the list saw a median pay increase of 5 percent in fiscal 2017, a slight slowdown from the 6 percent growth the previous year. Because the list is made up of the biggest companies by revenue, the constituents change slightly year to year.

In a repeat performance, Berkshire Hathaway was the biggest company by revenue, earning $242.1 billion, up 8 percent from the previous year. But Berkshire chief Warren Buffett was again at the bottom of the list in terms of CEO pay. The Oracle of Omaha takes a base salary of just $100,000. Apple was the only other company with total revenue in the same ballpark, at $229.2 billion.

The other half

For the first time this year, companies are required to report the compensation for their median employee, and a ratio of that figure compared with their CEO's. The regulation has been criticized for lacking a specified measurement methodology, making comparisons between companies next to meaningless.

For example, the company on Equilar's list with the widest gap in CEO-to-median employee pay was ManpowerGroup, a workforce solutions firm. The company's pay ratio was 2,483:1, meaning the CEO earned thousands of times more than the median employee. But it's less about CEO Jonas Prising's pay than the company's structure: It has over 600,000 employees worldwide, many of whom are "associates" who work on a temporary basis.

The company identified its median employee as an associate in the United Kingdom who earned $4,828 from the company. Focusing just on permanent staffers, the company's median employee is a junior sourcing consultant in Belgium who earned $43,344. Compared with the CEO, that gives a pay ratio of 276:1, much more in line with the overall norm.

Buffett, with his $100,000 salary, had the smallest CEO pay ratio at 2:1.

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