Average CEO Pay: $12 million

Last Updated Jun 8, 2011 8:31 AM EDT

Apparently, it doesn't take much of an economic rebound to send CEO pay heading skyward again. Average CEO pay fell in 2008 and 2009, ending 2009 at a little over $10 million. This year, median CEO compensation rose an impressive 35 percent, according to a preliminary survey from Governance Metrics International. Average CEO pay rose 18 percent, indicating that the raises were widespread rather than being restricted to just a few lucky CEOs.

While 2010's "average" CEO pay of almost $12 million seems quite generous in a country that is still facing a 8.7 percent unemployment rate, the highest-paid CEOs did much better, with two making more than $50 million.

The Governance Metrics study looks at 600 CEOs, and notes that because not all companies have filed their proxies yet, the list of the highest-paid may turn out to be incomplete. Nonetheless, the stats that have been compiled so far are impressive. The ten highest-paid CEOs are:
  1. Robert A. Iger, of The Walt Disney Company. Total realized compensation: $54,917,238
  2. George Paz of Express Scripts Inc. Total realized compensation: $51,523,934
  3. Lew Frankfort of Coach Inc. Total realized compensation: $49,451,967
  4. Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp. Total realized compensation: $47,102,629.
  5. Ralph Lauren of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. Total realized compensation: $42,995,222
  6. John C. Martin of Gilead Sciences Inc. Total realized compensation: $42,719,516
  7. John T. Chambers of Cisco Systems Inc. Total realized compensation: $37,896,888
  8. Ivan G. Seidenberg of Verizon Communications. Total realized compensation: $37,009,754
  9. Samuel J. Palmisano of International Business Machines Corp. Total realized compensation: $36,854,766
  10. David E.I. Pyott of Allergan, Inc. Total realized compensation: $35,269,232
They didn't just lower the bar. They buried it.
Additional findings from the survey:
  • CEOs were more likely to exercise stock options this year, which accounted for a significant portion of the rise in pay. Why? The report says that "Equity granted in the last couple of years at historically low stock prices began to vest in 2010, and executives were able to reap windfall profits for a return to stock price normalcy." In 2007, 39.2 percent of CEOs exercised their stock options, a number that fell to 22.9 percent in 2009. In 2010, 34 percent of CEOs exercised stock options.
  • Cash bonuses make a comeback. The CEOs of Walt Disney, Occidental Petroleum, Ralph Lauren, and IBM all got significant cash bonuses, sometimes because the bar to earn those bonuses was unusually low. The report suggests that cash bonuses were often not paid out in 2008 and 2009 because companies and CEOs missed their targets. In 2010, board fixed that problem by making the bonus criteria easier to meet. Lauren, for example, got a $19 million bonus because the company made more than its profit target of $452.4 million-a number that was about half of what the company had made the previous year.
  • Restricted stock continues to gain favor. Every one of the top-ten paid CEOs vested in restricted stock they already owned and was granted more of it. Seidenberg, Palmisano and Irani didn't get any stock options at all in 2010.
Can any CEO really be worth $50 million a year? Are any of these?

RELATED Image courtesy of flickr user ivva
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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