Recently, The New York Times published a list of the 200 best paid CEOs in the U.S. So for this week’s post, a few highlights from their rankings…

According to The NYT study (which was conducted on behalf of the news organization by Equilar), total compensation for top executives increased in 2016, after slipping the previous year. On average, pay packages for these CEOs increased by 16% relative to 2015. The average American worker, on the other hand, saw about a 2.5% percent gain in real wages.[1]

The big winner in 2016 was Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications (a telecommunications company that you probably know better as Spectrum) according to Equilar.

Rutledge received a total compensation package of $98,012,344 last year, including a base salary of $2,000,000; cash bonuses totaling $7,651,397; stock awards of $10,086,658; stock options worth $77,980,740; and $283,549 in perks and other rewards.

Number two in the rankings—Leslie Moonves of CBS—made almost $30M less. He received $68,594,646 in total compensation, including $3,500,000 base pay, $32,000,000 in cash bonuses, $31,946,942 in stock, and $1,147,704 in other rewards.

Here are few other highlights from this list:

  • Nike CEO Mark Parker clocked in at #5 ($47,615,302 in total compensation) which probably comes as no great shock to you given that company’s success. What may surprise you, however, is that he was beat out for the #4 position by the Estee Lauder CEO, Fabrizo Frida ($47,691,779).
  • Safra Catz of Oracle was the highest paid female CEO in 2016 according to the study ($40,943,812 in total compensation), and the only woman to crack the top 10 (she was #8). Interestingly, Catz’s co-CEO at Oracle, Mark Hurd, made a bit more than she did ($41,121,896) – enough to earn him the #6 spot.
  • Howard Schultz, the well-known CEO of Starbucks, came in at #44 ($21,815,498 in total compensation) according to Equilar, putting him just behind current Wal-Mart CEO C. Douglas McMillon ($21,841,988).
  • Pepsi beats Coke when it comes to be executive pay, it seems: Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyli received $26,168,597 in total compensation (#30), while Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent received $16,028,941 (#67).
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was awarded $25,144,255 last year as CEO of Exxon Mobil (#31), before assuming his current duties. And a company you may recall from the Bush years, as well as the more recent Deepwater Horizon disaster, Halliburton’s CEO David J. Lesar, received $17,441,226 in 2016 (#92).[2]
  • The CEOs of health insurance companies were among those well represented in the top 200. Universal Health Service’s CEO Alan Miller received $19,823,149 (#59), Aetna’s Mark Bertolini received $18,653,231 (#74), and UnitedHealth Group’s Stephen Helmsley received $15,695,513 (#121).
  • And so were the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (#18), Johnson&Johnson (#50), Biogen (#90), Vertex (#93), Merck (#97), Pfizer (#98), Biomarin Pharmaceuticals (#100), Bristol-Myers-Squibb (#101), Amgen (#104), Abbott Laboratories (#111), Eli-Lilly (#139), and Gilead Sciences (#165).
  • And yes, Mylan’s much criticized CEO Heather Bresch even made the list (#188). She was awarded $13,269,928 in total compensation in 2016 – a year in which her company opted to raise the price of her company’s EpiPens by nearly 500%.[3]
  • Finally, Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein received $20,204,374 in total compensation (#55).


Notably absent from these rankings were such celebrity CEOs as Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Elon Musk (Tesla).

As The Times points out, this can be attributed to the variety of ways in which executive compensation might be calculated. For instance, Equilar includes the full value of a stock grant in the year it was awarded, whereas others will spread the value of these grants over a multi-year period.

One of the organizations that does this is Bloomberg, and their 2016 list of the 10 best paid CEOs is worth comparing to Equilar’s. According to their assessment, both Mr. Cook and Mr. Musk make the cut – receiving $150,036,907 (#2) and $99,744,920 (#5) in total compensation, respectively. And in fact, the only CEO to make the top 10 on both lists was CBS’s Leslie Moonves. (He came in at #9 according to Bloomberg.)

But no matter how you slice it, all of these CEOs are extremely well compensated. And this, of course, is a source of growing frustration for most Americans. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Stanford Business School, seventy-four percent of Americans believe CEOs are overpaid…even though that same report found most Americans underestimate how much executives receive:

“The typical American worker believes a CEO earns $1 million in pay…whereas median reported compensation for the CEOs of these companies is approximately $10.3 million…” (p. 4)

Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that 50 years ago, the average CEO “only” made 20 times what their employees earned, according to The Times’ article. Today, it stands at around 350 times the average American worker’s salary – which The Times reports is $37,632 according to figures maintained by the AFL-CIO.

And Mr. Rutledge?

Last year he made 2,617 times that amount.


See you next Friday.



[1] Retrieved June 8, 2017.

[2] In the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, Halliburton was awarded a $7 billion no-bid government contract. The organization was later accused of overcharging the Pentagon. From: Also, investigations carried out by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling found that Halliburton was jointly at fault along with BP and Transocean. Halliburton subsequently pleaded guilty to destroying evidence after the April 2010 disaster. From: Both retrieved June 8, 2017.

[3] “Painted as EpiPen Villan, Mylan Chief Says She’s No Such Thing” by Katie Thomas. The New York Times, Aug. 26, 2016. Retrieved June 8, 2017.