CEOs of S&P 500 Companies Once Again See Record Compensation

According to the annual Wall Street Journal pay rankings, a pandemic year was still good for company leaders

SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by U.S. President Donald Trump at NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station, becoming the first people to launch into space from American soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Elon Musk made both less and far more than you'd expect as a CEO.
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tim Cook needs a raise.

That’s just one of many fascinating takeaways from the Wall Street Journal‘s annual ranking of pay and performance for leaders of S&P 500 companies. As always, the list arrives with some rather shocking numbers, particularly in a year that saw the income, employment and health of non-CEOs greatly harmed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Note: These figures may not be final. As the WSJ notes, “Most CEO compensation packages are predominantly restricted stock or stock options, as boards continue to emphasize pay structures intended to tie executive pay to the fortunes of shareholders generally. As a result, as stock prices rise, pay packages can swell beyond reported figures.”

As well, many of the top earners have stock grants, performance goals and other measures that may delay or spread out (or even reduce) payments; conversely, some have received inflated one-time salary bumps due to front-loaded agreements.

Some key findings:

  • Median pay for CEOs reached $13.4 million, a fifth straight annual record. These leaders received roughly a 5% raise from the previous year.
  • Median pay for CEOs has risen just under 40% since 2012, while pay for workers has increased just under 30%.
  • Seven CEOs earned more than $50 million last year.
  • The highest earner? Paycom Software Inc. founder Chad Richison. His pay package was valued at more than $200 million.
  • 24 CEOs made less than $5 million, with the most interesting wages going to Twitter head Jack Dorsey, who made $1.40 (yes, that’s a penny per character for Twitter’s original tweet length).
  • Elon Musk received zero compensation. But this doesn’t include the $32 billion he may pocket from stock options. Cases like his or Dorsey’s make it more difficult to analyze CEO pay compared to the average worker.
  • Only 22 women were represented among the 500 CEOs, although their median pay was similar ($13.4 million vs. $13.6 million) to that of male CEOs.
  • The highest median employee pay went to Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Alphabet (aka Google) and Facebook, where non-CEOs averaged over $260,000 in annual income.

The most interesting statistic? Obviously, having CEOs of cruise lines and travel companies on the list during a record year (as in record horrible) for the industry may give you pause. But this was the real surprise: “All five of the companies producing the best one-year shareholder returns reported CEO pay packages well below the median.”

Oh, and don’t feel too bad for Tim Cook. While the Apple CEO “only” came in at no. 171, he got a 28% raise. And can probably afford a pair of AirPods Max.

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