Corporate America’s most overpaid CEOs in 2021

Google parent company Alphabet leads the tech industry in a number of categories, but none more jarring than the divide between the salary of its CEO and its workers.

The latest survey of America’s most overpaid CEOs from As You Sow, a shareholder activism nonprofit, puts Alphabet far above the competition, with Sundar Pichai taking in nearly $281 million in 2019, compared with the average worker who took home $258,708. (The data for this list comes from SEC filings in 2020, usually looking back at the numbers for the 2019 fiscal year.) That’s a pay ratio of nearly 1,085 to one.

Pichai is a newcomer to the list’s top 10. In fact, there are a lot of new names in the top 10 this year. Only Disney’s Robert Iger and Discovery Communications’ David Zaslav appeared on the 2020 list and reappeared this year, though both received notably lower amounts in the 2021 totals. (Iger—who also appeared on the 2019 most overpaid list—saw his compensation decline by $18 million, and Zaslav was down nearly $84 million.)

“Amid a global pandemic that decimated the economy, billionaires—CEOs among them—have seen their wealth skyrocket,” said Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor and cofounder of Inequality Media. “Meanwhile, as this report notes, worker wages now represent a lower share of the economy than [at] almost any time since the 1940s. This crisis of inequality makes action on CEO pay all the more important.”

As You Sow notes that shareholder opposition to big CEO packages has increased in recent years—and financial and pension fund managers are growing uncomfortable with excessive compensation as well. The pandemic’s effect on businesses could bring about some changes, though.

Here’s a look at the list’s ranking of the 10 most overpaid CEOs in America. Three of the men on the list—CVS’s Larry Merlo, Disney’s Robert Iger, and Intel’s Robert Swan—have announced plans to leave their CEO positions. One, Las Vegas Sands’ Sheldon Adelson, has passed away.

  1. Sundar Pichai, Alphabet 
    Salary: $280,621,552 (Median employee pay: $258,708)
  2. David M. Zaslav, Discovery
    Salary: $45,843,912 (Median employee pay: $79,343)
  3. Larry J. Merlo, CVS Health  
    Salary: $36,451,749 (Median employee pay: $46,140)
  4. John C. Plant, Howmet Aerospace
    Salary: $51,712,578 (Median employee pay: $55,497)
  5. Robert Iger, The Walt Disney Co.
    Salary: $47,517,762 (Median employee pay: $52,184)
  6. Miguel Patricio, The Kraft Heinz Co.
    Salary: $43,297,480 (Median employee pay: $42,689)
  7. Robert H. Swan, Intel Corp.
    Salary: $66,935,100 (Median employee pay: $96,300)
  8. Alan B. Miller, Universal Health Services
    Salary: $24,473,240 (Median employee pay: $38,931)
  9. Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands Corp.
    Salary: $24,680,118 (Median employee pay: $42,228)
  10. Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.
    Salary: $42,111,103 (Median employee pay: N.A.)

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