When CEOs get a pay raise: Is there any rhyme or reason?

March 24, 2015, 7:31 PM UTC
Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman, the chairman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is interviewed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Photograph by Richard Drew — AP

Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook’s pay doubled and HP (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman’s increased by over 1,000% between 2013 and 2014. But the salaries of Starbuck’s (SBUX) Howard Schultz, along with Viacom’s Philippe Dauman and Disney’s Bob Iger all took a dive, by up to a half. Do any of these changes have to do with these executives’ performance? Signs point to no, not entirely.

Cook’s pay rose from $4.2 million to $9.2 million in 2014, giving him a bump of 117%. Much of the pay hike came from a $4 million boost to the CEO’s annual bonus. An increase in the cost of Cook’s personal security, from nothing to almost $700,000, also played a part.

But these figures merely represent the rise in Cook’s “reported pay,” which is what a company gives as a total figure in its latest proxy statement. There are other ways to look at compensation. It has not been reported, for example, that Cook actually earned over $154 million last year, largely made up of the vesting of some of the restricted Apple stock he owns. This kind of compensation is commonly called realized pay, it’s equivalent to W-9 pay. Cook’s realized pay increased by 109% between 2013 and 2014. What’s more, Cook is sitting on half a billion dollars worth of restricted stock, so his big paydays are far from over.

Cook was certainly not the only CEO to see a substantial pay hike in 2014. Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman also saw both her reported pay and realized pay increase in 2014. Whitman’s compensation shifted from her initial hiring package to a more regular one. Her salary went up from $1 to just over $1.5 million, her restricted stock awards doubled, the value of her stock options halved, and approximately $4 million shifted from a stock award into a cash bonus. Whitman’s reported pay rose by just over 11%. Her realized pay, however, went up by a staggering 1,300%. While much of this was driven by increases in cash pay (salary and bonus), Whitman vested in $12.5 million worth of HP stock in 2014 compared to $800,000 in the prior year. HP’s performance, however, has not been as unequivocally positive as Apple’s. Its stock was volatile in 2013, but settled in to a steady rise for most of 2014. But the company’s revenue and net income – the elements that most commonly drive reported pay – fell in 2014.

Not everyone had a major pay day in 2014. Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, realized $58 million in restricted stock and option profits in 2014, down from $139 million in 2013. Some of what Schultz earned in stock was made up of performance-restricted shares, though these are only based on two-year earnings per share and return on invested capital (ROIC) goals; hardly long-term. His annual bonus increased because it’s based on revenue and operating income, both of which increased in 2014. On the other hand, Starbucks’ stock price faltered in 2014, despite the increases in revenue and operating profit. Since the end of the year, however, the news of that improved operational performance pushed the company’s stock past its former high of $81 in 2013 to around $94 today.

You could see the fuzzy connection between CEO pay and performance at Viacom as well. CEO Philippe Dauman, saw his realized pay fall by 38% while his reported pay rose by almost 20%. The values of Dauman’s bonus, stock, and option awards all went up in 2014. In contrast, Dauman realized over $111 million in stock awards in the prior year, compared to around $58 million in 2014. The link between pay and performance is also not clear. Viacom saw a steady rise in its stock price in 2013, but prices fell in the latter half of 2014. That might explain the difference in stock values, but the company’s revenues – the figure that you might expect to influence reported pay – also fell. Viacom’s chairman, Sumner Redstone, saw his W-9 pay go in the opposite direction to Dauman’s, since he received over $100 million in stock in 2014, compared to $17.4 million in 2013.

Like Dauman, Disney’s (DIS) CEO Robert Iger saw reported pay and realized pay move in opposite directions. Iger received $41 million in stock compensation in 2014 but $72 million in 2013, leading to a decrease of 21%. Iger’s reported pay, meanwhile, increased by over 35% between 2013 and 2014, driven by a bonus that climbed by almost 10 million. The pay bump is a little easier to explain. Disney’s stock price has risen consistently since the end of 2011, and 2014 saw increases in both revenue and operating profit.

If you want to understand what’s really happening to CEO pay, you need to dig deeper than the headline figures, but even that doesn’t always explain the vagaries of executive salaries.

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