Executive compensation gets a bad rap these days. There are plenty of websites, blogs and left-of-center political pundits eager to point out just who they think are the most overpaid among America’s elite corporate leaders. One of the nation’s biggest labor unions, the AFL-CIO, has a section on their website called Executive PayWatch. This is where you’ll find the names of CEOs that the union thinks are the biggest pay offenders. Their list includes 2009 compensation critiques of Thomas Montag of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) at the height of the financial crisis.
But interestingly, there’s little attention paid to CEOs who pay themselves only token salaries, and who base their compensation on the performance of their company’s share price. You definitely won’t find any info on Executive PayWatch regarding this, and you don’t find too many articles in the mainstream financial press about it either. With that in mind, here are five elite CEOs getting paid peanuts to deliver their shareholders booming returns.
Steve Jobs, Apple (AAPL)
Perhaps the most well-known, well-respected and “coolest” CEO out there is the denim- and black-sweater clad Steve Jobs of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). Jobs return to the helm at Apple in 1997, and ever since then his salary has remained a constant $1 per annum. Jobs does own over 5 million shares of Apple stock, so he’s definitely not hurting for dollars. He also made a boatload of cash from the sale of animated film company Pixar to Disney (NYSE: DIS) and remains a major shareholder of the media conglomerate, so the Apple chief is definitely in good shape. His shareholders aren’t doing too badly either. AAPL shares were up 53% in 2010.
Richard Fairbank, Capital One (COF)
There are a whole lot of people walking around with a Capital One (NYSE: COF) issued credit card in their wallets. But if you have even $1 in your wallet, you have a dollar more than CEO Richard Fairbank takes in salary each year. The Capital One founder hasn’t taken a salary since 1997, although he does reportedly own over $100 million worth of COF shares. Those shares rose nearly 12% in 2010, so shareholders definitely got more than a fair deal with Fairbank at the helm.
Richard Kinder, Kinder Morgan (KMP)
The founder of energy pipeline company Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE: KMP) is another CEO who only gets a buck a year for his efforts. The executive is very familiar with how bad investor relations can be, as he was part of the leadership of the now-defunct Enron. Kinder left that company before the fireworks started, and he did so largely because he was suspicious of their business model. Although Kinder foregoes a salary, he still makes some pretty healthy dividend income from his 31% stake in the company. Shareholders also saw those healthy dividends in 2010, as the stock’s total return that year was nearly 23%.
John Mackey, Whole Foods Market (WFMI)
The outspoken chief of the premier organic and natural foods seller Whole Foods Market (NYSE: WFMI) is another CEO who accepts only the token $1 in salary. That dollar won’t even buy him a cup of organic tea in his high-end food stores, but Mackey doesn’t have to worry about where he’s going to get his next meal of free range chicken and no-pesticide grown vegetables. Mackey reportedly owns nearly $50 million in WFMI shares, so his fiscal dinner plate is in great shape. Also in great shape are Whole Foods shareholders. Investors ate up a total return of over 83% in 2010.
Larry Ellison, Oracle (ORCL)
When you’re worth an estimated $26 billion, you probably don’t need to skim much of a salary off of your company. The flamboyant and anything-but-frugal Larry Ellison of Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) certainly doesn’t. He only commands a dollar a year to lead the database giant. For a man who owns the world’s largest private yacht, and at one time the world’s largest house, it’s quite ironic that he only takes a buck a year in salary. Of course, Ellison has sold an estimated $1 billion in ORCL stock over the past decade or so, so he’s made sure he has plenty of walking around money. Oracle shareholders also have some big bucks to spend as well, as the stock sailed nearly 29% higher in 2010.
As of this writing, Jim Woods did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.