CEO Pay Lines Up with Shareholder Returns: WSJ Survey

But some CEOs were paid well even though the company delivered lower shareholder returns.
Katie Kuehner-HebertJune 25, 2015

Chief executive pay is generally reflecting increased pressure from shareholders for companies to tie a greater percentage of their top leaders’ pay to measurable results,  according to The Wall Street Journal’s annual pay survey.

The survey, which was conducted by the Hay Group, a human resources consulting firm,  compared the compensation for 300 CEOs and shareholder returns for their companies, and generally the two correlated fairly well, according to a WSJ article discussing the results today. All 10 of the CEOs posting the best shareholder returns were paid more than they had been a year earlier, and all but two of the 10 worst performers got pay cuts.

But some CEOs were paid well even though the company delivered lower shareholder returns. Part of this is due to long-term commitments such as pensions and multiyear stock grants that can drive pay higher even if annual performance falters.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

Download our whitepaper to discover the technical and behavioral skills needed to lead your business forward.

Allergan’s CEO Brent Saunders was the only executive in the top 10 highest paid CEOs whose company also ranked among the top 10% by investor performance.

Two of the 10 best paid CEOs — Viacom’s Philippe Dauman and GE’s Jeff Immelt — got higher compensation even though the value of their shareholders’ investments in the company fell. Dauman’s compensation rose 19%, to $44.3 million, while Viacom’s total shareholder return was down 6.6%. His salary last year rose by $371,000, to $3.9 million, his bonus for the year rose by $3.1 million, to $20 million, and his annual stock-option award rose by about $1.5 million, to $7.5 million.

While Viacom’s profit fell 0.2% in 2014, the company’s directors praised Dauman in the company’s proxy for delivering record per-share earnings and for more qualitative accomplishments, including “directing significant investment in content creation,” the WSJ story said. Moreover, since Dauman became CEO in 2006, Viacom has delivered average annual shareholder returns of 18.9% over the past three years.

“CEO pay and investor returns can diverge for a number of reasons,” the WSJ wrote. “Performance metrics could be linked to company-specific goals like subscriber additions or industrial revenue instead of share-price appreciation, for example. Or share-price targets could be benchmarked against industry peers, which in theory can highlight better leadership when outside forces weigh on an entire sector.”

Overall, total compensation for the CEOs climbed by a median of 13.5%, to about $13.6 million, nearly two-thirds of which was linked to performance. That is well above the 2.2% average rise in wages and salaries for U.S. private-sector employees overall last year, according to the Labor Department. But shareholders did even better, with a median return, including share-price appreciation and dividends, for companies in the survey of 16.6%.

Case Study: How Edgewood Tahoe’s CFO Saved 500 Jobs From the Ashes