Did you get a 7% raise last year? Congratulations, yours was in line with what CEOs at the biggest companies got. But for chief executives, that 7% was roughly $800,000.
Pay for CEOs at S&P 500 companies rose to a median of $12 million last year, including salary, stock and other compensation, according to data analyzed by Equilar for The Associated Press. The eight-figure packages continue to rise as companies tie more of their CEOs’ pay to their stock prices, which are still near record levels, and as profits hit an all-time high last year due to lower tax bills and a still-growing economy.
Pay for typical workers at these companies isn’t rising nearly as quickly. The median increase was 3% last year, less than half the growth for the top bosses. Median means half were larger, and half were smaller.
The survey showed that it would take 158 years for the typical worker at most big companies to make what their CEO did in 2018, seven years longer than if both were still at 2017 pay levels. And when top executives are already making so much more than their employees, the bigger percentage raises compound the widening financial gap.
Anger about widening income inequality is rising around the world, from Capitol Hill to protests in streets. But it’s only slowly seeping into the conference rooms where boards of directors set the pay for CEOs. Boards are often more concerned with what a competitor may pay to poach their CEO than how much more that person makes versus the rest of the workforce.
“It’s a natural thing for a CEO and a board to say, ‘How are others who are doing similar work paid?’ And there’s a natural sense that if the board believes and supports their CEO, they don’t expect their CEO to be paid less than the others in the industry,” said Eric Hosken, a partner at Compensation Advisory Partners, a consulting firm that works with boards.
Women vs. men: Of the 340 companies included in the analysis, only 19 were run by women. Plus, there is not a single woman on the overall list of the top 20. The top paid male — Discovery CEO David Zaslav — earned a pay package worth almost six times that of the most highly paid female CEO — Mary Barra of General Motors. She ranks 30th on the list overall.
Being No. 1
Last year’s top paid executive in the survey was David Zaslav of Discovery, the media giant behind HGTV and the Food Network. His total compensation was valued at $129.5 million, up 207% from a year earlier. Like other executives at the top of the rankings, most of Zaslav’s pay is not from cash but from stock awards or option grants that he will fully benefit from only if Discovery’s share price rises in the future.
Bosses vs workers
At more than 40% of the companies in this year’s survey, the CEO’s pay rose by at least double the percentage of the median worker’s pay gain.
High salaries of more than $100,000 are most typically found in a more staid area of the market: utilities. Most of the big utilities paid their median worker above $110,000 last year, but that may not last for long. Compensation fell for the median worker at most utilities last year.