Power Players

From Bob Iger to Warren Buffett and Jack Dorsey: These are the highest and lowest paid CEOs of 2018

Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
Photo credit: Gillian Zoe Segal

Becoming a chief executive officer of a top company seems like the pinnacle of success, so what kind of money do those at the top make? For its annual report on compensation for CEOs of S&P 500 companies, The Wall Street Journal found that it varies widely, with the highest-paid CEO earning $129.4 million in 2018 and the lowest earning just $1.

The report, which was based on data from public company intelligence firm MyLogIQ, found that that the median pay for CEOs in 2018 was $12.4 million (up from $12.1 million in 2017).

The highest paid CEO in 2018 was David M. Zaslav of entertainment network Discovery, Inc. Zaslav was paid $129.4 million, a sharp increase from his $42.2 million in 2017. Much of his pay comes from stock options, and the Journal notes his significant increase in pay was almost entirely performance-based and a result of a "substantial increase in stock-option awards tied to a five-year contract extension through 2023."

The second highest paid CEO in 2018 was Stephen F. Angel of Munich-based industrial gas company Linde, who was paid $66.1 million.

The Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger was paid $65.6 million, making him the third highest paid S&P 500 CEO last year. That's a 80.9% increase in pay from 2017, when he pulled in $36.6 million. Iger's increase was largely the result of a pay bump for extending his tenure at Disney through 2021, as well as stock awards. Notably, in March, Disney heiress Abigail Disney told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that she thinks CEOs in the U.S are being paid far too much, and called for a "millionaires tax" on households earning more than $5 million to help fund affordable housing, infrastructure and other initiatives.

No women cracked the top five highest paid CEOs. In fact, the highest paid woman CEO — Mary T. Barra of General Motors — made $21.9 million in 2018, followed by Marillyn A. Hewson of Lockheed Martin, who made $21.5 million in 2018, and Phebe N. Novakovic of General Dynamics, who made $20.7 million. There were only 20 women running S&P 500 companies for the full year, down from 22 in 2017.

But not all CEOs were so highly compensated. The Wall Street Journal's analysis found that 23 CEOs in the S&P 500 made less than $5 million last year (down from 26 in 2017), four made less than $1 million and two made "token" salaries of $1 each.

The lowest paid CEOs of 2018 included Alphabet's Larry Page and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, who each made $1. CEOs taking a $1 salary has become a "point of pride" in Silicon Valley, CNBC previously reported. That's because it signifies a CEO's trust in the business they run — their compensation comes from a large stake in their company and therefore is dependent on the stock's performance. In the past, other CEOs who have taken $1 salary include Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Snapchat's Evan Spiegel. And Tesla's Elon Musk declines to take his salary.

Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett was the fourth lowest paid CEO of 2018. He was paid $389,000 for his role as CEO, $100,000 of which was salary and $288,968 of which was listed as other compensation. As the fourth richest person in the world, much of Buffett's wealth comes from his ownership of Berkshire Hathaway stock.

Buffett has been taking the same salary of $100,000 for decades, and said he reimburses half of that salary to Berkshire to cover incidental expenses: "I just don't want to keep track of it every time somebody goes out and gets me hamburgers," Buffett told the Wall Street Journal.

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