How Elon Musk helped raise the ceiling on CEO pay


When Tesla awarded Elon Musk a multibillion-dollar pay bundle in 2018, the landmark deal helped to vastly enhance the potential compensation of the CEOs at a lot of America’s largest public corporations.

The bundle was composed completely of an unlimited inventory grant tied to the corporate’s efficiency. As Tesla has bought sufficient electrical autos to develop into probably the most precious automaker on the planet, Musk has thus far acquired shares value almost $60 billion — serving to to make him the world’s richest particular person.

Compensation specialists say they see the affect of Musk’s deal in every single place.

“There’s a variety of corporations on the market that noticed that award and its construction,” mentioned Brian Johnson, govt director with ISS Company Options, which advises companies on govt pay and different practices. “They suppose it’s a great way to incentivize efficiency.”

A brand new survey performed for The New York Occasions by Equilar, a compensation consulting agency, reveals that a lot of final 12 months’s highest-paid executives received packages that, like Musk’s, may pay out the type of sums that might have been unthinkable just a few years in the past. And even because the hole between what executives and employees earn continued to widen through the pandemic, corporations opened the floodgates for what they paid their leaders in 2021.

The entire 10 highest-paid executives had compensation over $100 million, a primary. Their common compensation was $330 million, the best ever. But it surely’s not only a few executives on the high having fun with the spoils. Underscoring how widespread the pay will increase had been final 12 months, the median CEO made $32.1 million in 2021, up 27% from $25.3 million in 2020 and much greater than in pre-pandemic years.

Jeff Inexperienced, CEO of The Commerce Desk, a digital promoting firm, reported compensation of $835 million final 12 months, making him the top-paid govt within the Equilar survey, which encompasses 200 corporations, all of which have income over $1 billion. Inexperienced’s pay in 2021 was the third-highest quantity that Equilar present in its previous 5 annual surveys, that are based mostly on corporations’ pay disclosures; Musk’s deal in 2018, which Tesla valued at $2.3 billion, continues to be the largest in these years.

Zig Serafin, CEO of Qualtrics, a software program firm, was second final 12 months, with compensation of $541 million. It was the fourth-highest sum of the previous 5 years. Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia, the journey firm, was third final 12 months, with pay value $296 million.

Though these compensation totals are taken from the businesses’ monetary filings, they’re typically estimates pushed by the businesses’ makes an attempt to worth the inventory their CEOs would possibly obtain. In consequence, the executives could earn lower than these totals, particularly if the bear market persists and their corporations’ inventory costs stay depressed, however they may additionally take dwelling far greater quantities ought to the shares get better.

Lots of the highest-ranking executives within the survey acquired pay packages that had been far bigger than these of the heads of far greater corporations with a lot bigger earnings. For instance, Tim Cook dinner, CEO of Apple, acquired his first fairness award since 2011 final 12 months and had complete compensation of $99 million, placing him simply thirteenth within the survey.

Regardless of the expansion in pay, shareholders, apparently believing that it’s being tied to efficiency, have voted in favor of most packages. Solely 3% of “say on pay” votes received lower than 50% help from shareholders within the 12 months by means of June 3, based on an evaluation of 1,444 public corporations by Willis Towers Watson, a consulting agency that advises corporations on govt pay packages and company governance issues.

For a number of years, public corporations have needed to examine their CEOs’ compensation with that of a typical worker, the results of a regulation handed by Congress that aimed to assist buyers assess the extent of govt pay. Final 12 months, CEOs earned 339 instances greater than the median pay of workers at their corporations, up from 311 instances in 2020, based on Equilar. The median worker wage rose 10% final 12 months, to $92,349 from $83,808.

Final 12 months’s govt pay jumped partly as a result of company boards, which determine CEO compensation, wished to reward high officers for navigating their corporations by means of the pandemic.

As well as, the inventory market rallied in 2021, and the worth of inventory grants, which generally represent the biggest share of CEO compensation, was additionally greater. When inventory costs are rising, boards are likely to say executives are doing a very good job and pay them extra.

And in a world mesmerized by Musk and his successes at Tesla, boards are much more more likely to view CEOs as indispensable and provides them big pay offers.

“There’s a mindset that the entire thing will crumble if we don’t have this off-the-charts gifted particular person in that workplace,” mentioned Sarah Anderson, a program director on the Institute for Coverage Research, a liberal suppose tank that always analyzes CEO pay. “So many individuals on these company boards are benefiting from the system. They’re both executives themselves or they’ve another stake in maintaining the compensation system the way in which it’s.”

The most important hole between CEO and employees within the survey was at Amazon, the place this previous spring a union received a battle to arrange a warehouse for the primary time. Andrew Jassy, who took over from Jeff Bezos as Amazon’s CEO final 12 months, had pay that was 6,474 instances that of the corporate’s median worker. His compensation final 12 months, $213 million, was the eighth highest, based on Equilar. Practically all of it got here from a inventory grant.

“The way in which the SEC guidelines work, we’re required to report that grant as complete compensation for 2021 when in actuality will probably be obtainable to be paid out over the subsequent 10 years, beginning in 2023,” Chris Oster, an Amazon spokesperson, mentioned in a press release, referring to the Securities and Change Fee, which regulates corporations’ disclosures. “As famous within the proxy, this award is meant to signify most of Andy’s compensation for the approaching years.

Just one girl, Sue Nabi, CEO of Coty, a cosmetics agency, was among the many 20 top-paid executives within the survey, coming in fifth, with $284 million in compensation.

Setting an Instance

Musk’s megapackage was criticized when it was introduced in 2018. Skeptics mentioned the large riches it promised would possibly encourage him to take too many dangers to satisfy the plan’s objectives. However pay specialists say it impressed boards at different corporations to concoct related offers.

The groundbreaking function of Musk’s compensation plan was not a lot the efficiency targets — these have been round for years — however the colossal quantity of inventory that lined pay for a number of years into the long run. (Tesla’s board has not awarded Musk any subsequent inventory grants.) The inventory he has thus far gotten for the award is value simply over $60 billion, a treasure chest that helped him finance his bid for Twitter. Musk and Tesla didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Though the worth of Musk’s bundle was big, its phrases had been demanding.

Simply being employed by Tesla wasn’t sufficient for Musk to get any of the award. He acquired no inventory only for displaying up, a observe that’s widespread in CEO packages.

For him to get the inventory, Tesla’s worth on the inventory market — a perform of its inventory worth — needed to maintain rising and the corporate needed to hit bold targets for gross sales and working earnings.

This ensured there was a belt-and-suspenders strategy to efficiency measurement. As a result of Tesla’s enterprise and inventory have finished exceedingly effectively in recent times, Musk acquired almost all of the inventory within the deal, based on a current Tesla regulatory submitting, one thing that appeared extremely unlikely on the time it was introduced.

The current plunge in Tesla’s share worth means the inventory that Musk has acquired from the 2018 award is value considerably lower than it was simply months in the past.

Though they’ve the potential to pay out big quantities, in sure respects final 12 months’s largest pay offers weren’t as demanding as Musk’s.

For Inexperienced, of The Commerce Desk, to qualify for the choices in his bundle, valued within the proxy assertion at $828 million, the corporate’s inventory worth should climb effectively above present ranges, however there are not any enterprise objectives for The Commerce Desk to realize.

Melinda Zurich, a spokesperson for The Commerce Desk, mentioned the inventory worth targets within the firm’s award had been bold and famous that its inventory was up a number of thousand p.c since its initial public offering in 2016.

“Jeff has performed an integral position in driving that development and is essential to the corporate’s future development agenda,” she added.

Serafin, of Qualtrics, doesn’t must hit any efficiency targets to qualify for roughly two-thirds of his inventory pay final 12 months; he simply has to stay in his put up to get these shares, which the corporate valued at $360 million in its proxy assertion. And his performance-based shares, valued at $180 million, have enterprise working targets however no inventory worth objectives. Serafin has already acquired shares from each awards.

“As a know-how firm that encounters important competitors for certified personnel, long-term incentive compensation performs a crucial position in our capacity to draw, rent, inspire and reward certified and skilled govt officers,” Qualtrics, which had its preliminary public providing final 12 months, wrote in its proxy assertion. Some corporations have awarded executives a considerable amount of inventory when going public as a method to give them “pores and skin within the sport.”

Among the many highest paid, Nabi, of Coty, seems to have one of many best packages to earn. Not solely does the $280 million in inventory awarded to her final 12 months haven’t any share worth or enterprise objectives connected, she has already acquired one-third of the inventory outright — and stands to get the remainder of the award as quickly as August 2023.

A Coty spokesperson famous that the corporate’s inventory had risen since Nabi grew to become CEO in 2020 and added: “Ms. Nabi is likely one of the magnificence business’s main founder abilities: a massively revered enterprise chief with an excellent observe document within the sector. In an effort to entice a real entrepreneur like her, Coty wanted to have an attractive fairness scheme.”

No Restrict

Regardless that there are a lot of well-used methods to assemble wealthy pay packages, corporations are nonetheless discovering novel methods to take action.

Final 12 months, Ariel Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor Group and a strong Hollywood determine who was the premise for a personality within the collection “Entourage,” received a efficiency inventory award that locations no most on the quantity of inventory it may pay out, based on the corporate’s proxy assertion. If Endeavor inventory retains hitting greater worth targets, the award retains paying out inventory, for 10 years. (Against this, Musk’s blowout bundle had a capped variety of shares.)

“I haven’t seen a plan like this earlier than, with what seems to be no cap on payouts,” mentioned Steven Corridor, a compensation guide.

Endeavor, which went public final 12 months, valued the uncapped award at $196 million. Emanuel received one other inventory award final 12 months, value $72 million, that he can obtain in full if he stays in his put up by means of subsequent Could. Equilar calculated Emanuel’s complete pay final 12 months to be $295 million, inserting him fourth within the survey.

“Mr. Emanuel’s compensation in Endeavor’s IPO 12 months displays the worth he has created during the last 25 years since founding the corporate and is tied to its continued efficiency and the creation of long-term worth,” an organization spokesperson mentioned in a press release.

If Endeavor’s inventory, which has not too long ago plunged, doesn’t get better, Emanuel received’t gather a lot of his efficiency inventory grant. However Tesla’s inventory additionally fell within the months after Musk acquired his large deal. It then soared, clearing the way in which for Musk, and different CEOs after him, to get pleasure from sky’s-the-limit pay.



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