Compensation & Benefits Corporate Leadership Research

2019 Most Overpaid CEOs

As Bloomberg columnist Nir Kaissar noted in a recent editorial, “As the grim pay disclosures pile up year after year, the backlash against the corporate elite will intensify. If corporate boards can’t find a better balance in their pay structure, outside forces will, and at a potentially far greater cost to companies and their shareholders.”

As You Sow embarked on a mission to identify and report on the most overpaid CEOs of the S&P 500 and whether or not pension funds and financial managers held companies accountable for such excessive compensation. At the time, we found that far too many funds and managers were rubber stamps for these excesses.

This 2019 study is the fifth report of our research results. During these five years, what has changed? Quite a bit, and not enough. Significantly, more large shareholders are voting against more CEO pay packages. Those who are not are more isolated and defensive.

Companies have responded to this shareholder opposition. A February 2019 Equilar analysis, Companies Shift CEO Pay Mix Following Multiple Say on Pay Failures, found that “The average CEO total compensation at companies that failed Say on Pay (shareholder votes) decreased significantly from 2011 to 2017, a total of 44.9% over that time frame.”1

overall CEO pay continues to increase. According to Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) the average pay for a CEO in the S&P 500 grew from $11.5 million in 2013 to $13.6 million in 2017. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, which includes the cashing in of stock options, found that “in 2017 the average CEO of the 350 largest firms in the U.S. received $18.9 million in compensation, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016.”2 More…

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