How Elon Musk Helped Lift the Ceiling on C.E.O. Pay

While those compensation totals are taken from the company’s financial filings, they are often estimates driven by the companies’ attempts to value the stock their chief executives might receive. As a result, the executives may earn less than those totals, especially if the bear market persists and their companies’ stock prices remain depressed, but they could also take home far higher amounts should the stocks recover.

Many of the highest-ranking executives in the survey received pay packages that were far larger than those of the heads of far bigger companies with much larger profits. For example, Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, received his first equity award since 2011 last year and had total compensation of $99 million, putting him just 13th in the survey.

Despite the growth in pay, shareholders, apparently believing that it is being tied to performance, have voted in favor of most packages. Only 3 percent of “say on pay” votes got less than 50 percent support from shareholders in the year through June 3, according to an analysis of 1,444 public companies by Willis Towers Watson, a consulting firm that advises companies on executive pay programs and corporate governance matters.

For several years, public companies have had to compare their chief executive’s compensation with that of a typical employee, the result of a regulation passed by Congress that aimed to help investors assess the level of executive pay. Last year, chief executives earned 339 times more than the median pay of employees at their companies, up from 311 times in 2020, according to Equilar. The median employee wage rose 10 percent last year, to $92,349 from $83,808.

Last year’s executive pay jumped in part because corporate boards, which decide chief executive compensation, wanted to reward top officers for navigating their companies through the pandemic.

In addition, the stock market rallied in 2021, and the value of stock grants, which typically constitute the largest share of chief executive compensation, was also higher. When stock prices are rising, boards tend to say executives are doing a good job — and pay them more.

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