CEO pay rose to $12.7M in 2020 even as COVID ravaged economy

As COVID-19 ravaged the world final 12 months, CEOs’ large pay packages appeared to be underneath as a lot risk as the whole lot else.

Fortunately for these CEOs, many had boards of administrators prepared to see the pandemic as a unprecedented occasion past their management. Across the nation, boards made modifications to the intricate formulation that decide their CEOs’ pay — and different strikes — that helped make up for losses created by the disaster.

As a outcome, pay packages rose but once more final 12 months for the CEOs of the largest firms, even although the pandemic despatched the economy to its worst quarter on file and slashed company earnings around the globe. The median pay package deal for a CEO at an S&P 500 firm hit $12.7 million in 2020, in accordance to knowledge analyzed by Equilar for The Associated Press. That means half the CEOs in the survey made extra, and half made much less. It’s 5 % greater than the median pay for that very same group of CEOs in 2019 and an acceleration from the 4.1 % climb in final 12 months’s survey.

At Advance Auto Parts, CEO Tom Greco’s pay for 2020 was in line to take successful due to a mountain of pandemic-related prices. Extended sick-pay advantages and bills for hand sanitizer and different security gear totaling $60 million dragged on two key measurements that assist set his efficiency pay. But as a result of the board’s compensation committee noticed these prices as extraordinary and unanticipated, it excluded them from its calculations. That helped Greco’s complete compensation rise 4.7 % final 12 months to $8.1 million.

At Carnival, the cruise operator gave inventory grants to executives, in half to encourage its leaders to follow the corporate as the pandemic forced it to halt sailings and furlough workers. For CEO Arnold Donald’s 2020 compensation, these grants had been valued at $5.2 million, although their full worth will in the end rely on how the corporate performs on carbon reductions and different measures in coming years. That helped Donald obtain complete compensation valued at $13.3 million for the 12 months, up 19 % from a 12 months earlier, even as Carnival swung to a $10.2 billion loss for the fiscal 12 months.

Meanwhile, common employees additionally noticed positive factors, however not on the identical fee as their bosses. And thousands and thousands of others misplaced their jobs.

Advance Auto Parts CEO Tom Greco noticed his complete compensation rise 4.7 % final 12 months to $8.1 million, regardless of the corporate taking a $60 million hit due to COVID-19 bills.

Wages and advantages for all employees exterior the federal government rose simply 2.6 % final 12 months. That’s in accordance to US authorities knowledge that ignore the impact of employees shifting between completely different industries. It’s an essential distinction as a result of extra lower-wage earners misplaced their jobs as the economy shut down than professionals who may make money working from home.

“This should have been a year for shared sacrifice,” mentioned Sarah Anderson, who directs the worldwide economy venture on the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. “Instead it became a year of shielding CEOs from risk while it was the frontline employees who paid the price.”

The AP’s compensation study included pay knowledge for CEOs at S&P 500 firms who’ve served at the least two full fiscal years at their firms, which filed proxy statements between Jan. 1 and April 30. It doesn’t embody some extremely paid CEOs who don’t match that standards. The pay figures for CEOs generally embody grants of inventory and choices they could by no means in the end obtain until they hit sure efficiency targets.


Last 12 months’s 5 % achieve for median CEO pay masks how a lot variation in pay there was beneath the floor. Some firms thrived as a direct results of the pandemic. Sales boomed for Lowe’s amid a great nesting across the country, and CEO Marvin Ellison’s pay practically doubled after its inventory greater than doubled the S&P 500’s complete return by means of its fiscal 12 months.

Other CEOs, in the meantime, noticed their compensation reduce. At Duke Energy, the board diminished CEO Lynn Good’s short-term efficiency pay after its earnings per share fell wanting its preliminary goal, partly as a result of industrial prospects used much less energy throughout the pandemic. Good’s pay dipped 2.6 % to $14.3 million, even although earnings ended up throughout the vary Duke forecast for Wall Street early in the 12 months. Duke didn’t alter formulation to elevate Good’s pay due to the pandemic.

Overall, 61% of the 342 CEOs in this year’s survey did get a lift in compensation final 12 months. That’s nearly the very same share as the 62 % in 2019, when the economy and company earnings had been rising.

That’s additionally regardless of a number of CEOs taking high-profile cuts to their salary throughout the 12 months as an act of shared sacrifice and to preserve a bit of money for the corporate. Roughly considered one of each 5 CEOs in this 12 months’s survey had a smaller wage for 2020 than the 12 months earlier than.

But wage is commonly only a minor piece of a CEO’s complete compensation, which is derived from notoriously advanced formulation. Each 12 months, firms fill pages of their proxy statements with charts and footnotes displaying how the majority of their CEO’s pay rises and falls with company efficiency. It’s right here, in the nuanced space, the place many firms adjusted levers that ultimately helped CEOs get more in compensation.


Boards usually follow the formulation set for CEO pay early every year, however the world economy’s sudden crash compelled a reconsideration. What made issues even cloudier was that that they had few historic guides for a way to proceed.

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald whose complete compensation went up 19 % in 2020 from a 12 months earlier regardless of the pandemic devastating the cruise trade.

“Many committees asked us this very question: Does this compare to the financial crisis? What did people do then?” mentioned Melissa Burek, associate at Compensation Advisory Partners, a consulting agency that works with boards.

But the pandemic was very completely different than the 2008 financial collapse, primarily as a result of this disaster was brought on by a virus, fairly than by CEOs taking up an excessive amount of debt and threat. As boards adjusted targets to make CEOs’ incentive pay easier to get, many additionally restricted the dimensions of the potential payouts.

“I think there is a recognition, when unemployment is so high, of: Do we feel good about paying our CEO at this level?” mentioned Kelly Malafis, additionally a associate at Compensation Advisory Partners, of the considering by boards of administrators. “The answer is: ‘We’re doing this for performance. When performance is not good, we don’t pay. When performance is good, we do pay.’”

At Carnival, for instance, the corporate says that a lot of its CEO’s compensation is tied to the corporate’s monetary and operational efficiency. The firm mentioned Donald acquired no money bonus tied to 2020. And to protect money in the pandemic, the corporate gave him grants of restricted inventory as a substitute of wage from April by means of June. Then from July by means of November, it reduce Donald’s wage by half.

Data exhibits CEO pay elevated final 12 months regardless of the financial ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Equilar for The Associated Press


Progressives in Washington are pushing for guidelines modifications to narrow the gap between CEOs and workers.

Companies have to present how way more their CEO makes than their typical employee, and the median in this 12 months’s survey was 172 instances. That’s up from 167 instances for those self same CEOs final 12 months, and it means workers should work lifetimes to make what their CEO does in only a 12 months.

One invoice in Congress proposes to elevate taxes on firms the place the CEO makes 50 instances or greater than the median employee on the firm.

At some firms, shareholders are pushing again on compensation packages authorised by the board.

At the annual assembly of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s shareholders earlier this month, simply 51 % of voting shares gave a thumb’s up to its executives’ pay packages, in contrast with 95 % a 12 months earlier. Across the S&P 500, such “Say-on-pay” votes routinely get greater than 90 % approval.

Chipotle’s board excluded three months of gross sales outcomes from the worst of the pandemic, together with a number of different objects, whereas calculating pay for its CEO, Brian Niccol. That allowed him to get larger compensation than he would have in any other case.

Chipotle known as the transfer a one-time modification that’s not reflective of Niccol’s ongoing pay package deal. Chipotle was one of the relative winners of the pandemic, with income rising 7.1 % and its inventory hovering 65.7 %.

Chipotle’s board calculated CEO Brian Niccol’s wage by excluding three months of gross sales throughout the worst of the pandemic.

While they’re nonbinding, “Say-on-pay” votes are getting growing consideration from Wall Street. Between 2017 and 2019, shares of firms that failed their votes lagged sharply behind the S&P 500 in the next 12 months, in accordance to Morgan Stanley.

The pattern didn’t maintain final 12 months, when the pandemic might have unsettled the whole lot, however Morgan Stanley strategists say they nonetheless see failed “Say-on-pay” votes as a crimson flag {that a} inventory might wrestle.

And if there’s something that buyers on Wall Street care about, it’s how properly they’re getting compensated.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.