The top 10 highest paid CEOs of the Fortune 500
The world’s richest person also received the highest CEO compensation in 2021.
Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla, topped Fortune‘s new list of the most highly compensated CEOs on the Fortune 500. In 2021, Musk “realized” compensation worth almost $23.5 billion, from exercising some Tesla stock options awarded in a 2018 multiyear “moonshot” grant. That was—by far—the biggest CEO payday in 2021, according to our new analysis of how Fortune 500 CEOs are compensated.
CEO pay dwarfs that of the average employee. The average big-company CEO made 351 times the pay of the average worker on a realized basis in 2020, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which has tracked the metric for decades, up from a 21-to-1 ratio back in 1965.
Our analysis evaluated the pay packages of 280 Fortune 500 CEOs, who earned a median total compensation of $15.9 million, up 30% from a year earlier. When calculating a CEO’s total realized pay, we measured the following for the company’s most recent fiscal year: salary and bonuses; other compensation such as vested restricted stock grants, long-term incentive payouts and perks; and stock gains in the form of value realized from exercising stock options. Because the value of unexercised options is unpredictable, we did not consider them in our tabulation of total compensation.
Here are the highest-paid CEOs.
1. Elon Musk, Tesla: $23.5 billion
Tesla ranked 65 on this year’s Fortune 500. The company had a blockbuster 2021, bringing in $53.8 billion in revenue, up 71% from 2020, and expanding significantly into key European and Chinese markets. Tesla delivered 936,000 vehicles in 2021, an 87% increase that puts the company at the pinnacle of the global EV industry, with a 14% market share.
Musk did not respond to Fortune‘s requests for comment.
2. Tim Cook, Apple: $770.5 million
Cook has been CEO of Apple Inc. since 2011. He earned $770.5 million in 2021 alone, mostly as a part of a 10-year grant of shares worth $1.7 billion. But his incredible pay package may be justified by Apple’s stock market performance under Cook: The tech company’s market value during his tenure has increased by $2.2 trillion.
Apple ranks 3 on the Fortune 500. The company faced challenges because of the global chip shortage, but successfully began manufacturing the equipment in-house. Apple finished the year with a gargantuan $95 billion in profits—outperforming every other U.S. company on that front.
Apple declined to comment on Fortune‘s analysis.
3. Jensen Huang, NVIDIA, $561 million
Huang is the co-founder of NVIDIA, a software company best known for its Shield gaming consoles and advancements in Artificial Intelligence.
The company ranked 134 on this year’s Fortune 500. Revenue surged 61.4%.
A spokesperson acknowledged that during the latest fiscal year, Huang “realized about $507 million from expiring options that had been granted in 2011 and 2012, reflecting the approximately 60x increase in the company’s share price over the [past] decade.”
4. Reed Hastings, Netflix: $453.5 million
Hastings is the co-founder, CEO, and chairman of the streaming giant. Under his leadership, Netflix went from a DVD mail delivery service to an online streaming heavyweight.
Netflix ranked 115 on the Fortune 500, with an 18.8% change in revenue. The company has recently cut costs after losing subscribers as the world re-opens after the pandemic. Netflix also faces increased competition from streaming services.
A spokesperson disputed Fortune‘s analysis of Hastings’ realized pay and would only reiterate the total value of his “granted” compensation for 2021: “Per our proxy statement his compensation in 2021 was $40.8 million, with $650,000 in cash and $39.7 million in stock options.”
5. Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals: $452.9 million
Schleifer is the co-founder and CEO of Regeneron, a biopharmaceutical company that makes a variety of medications that treat asthma, cancer, chronic pain, and more.
The company ranked 231 on this year’s Fortune 500. Revenue rose 89.1% in 2021, driven by the company’s REGEN-COV antibody treatment for prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
A spokesperson noted that the bulk of Schleifer’s realized pay, per Fortune‘s analysis, “reflects the exercise of long-held options that were reaching their ten-year expiration point,” and said, “Regeneron’s compensation philosophy has always emphasized long-term incentives in the form of stock options and other equity-based awards, as we believe this aligns employee interests with the typically long-term nature of drug development.”
6. Marc Benioff, Salesforce: $439.4 million
Salesforce’s acquisitions of MuleSoft, Tableau, and Slack have helped fuel growth in recent years. Revenue rose 24.7% percent in 2021.
Salesforce did not respond to a request for comment.
7. Satya Nadella, Microsoft: $309.4 million
Many of Nadella’s peers likely believe he deserves a huge payday. This year, Nadella was voted the “most underrated” CEO for the sixth consecutive year, according to the survey behind Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies. Nadella has headed that list since 2017.
Microsoft posted a robust 38% increase in profits last year—earning $61 billion, the fourth-largest sum among Fortune 500 companies—as revenue rose 17.5% to $168 billion thanks to a successful Surface laptop and tablet launch. The company, which ranked 14 on this year’s 500, also grappled with a chip shortage that challenged Xbox game consoles.
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.
8. Robert A. Kotick, Activision Blizzard: $296.7 million
Kotick became CEO of Activision in 1991. The gaming giant, best known for games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, ranked 396 on this year’s Fortune 500.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick earned $296.7 million last year, according to our calculations, from the value realized on vested restricted stock. Despite rampant employee complaints and several lawsuits over sexism, harassment, and Kotick’s personal mismanagement of assault claims at the game developer, Microsoft in January agreed to buy Activision for $68.7 billion, in what would be its largest acquisition to date.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson reiterated that Activision Blizzard had valued Kotick’s “granted” (but not realized) compensation in 2021 at $826,549. She noted that Kotick had reduced his salary to $62,500 last year, and praised his 31-year tenure for making Activision “one of the most successful global gaming com- panies in the world.”
9. Hock E. Tan, Broadcom: $288 million
Tan was born in Malaysia and attended M.I.T. on a scholarship before entering the business world. He has been CEO of Broadcom since Avago’s $37 billion acquisition of the semiconductor company in 2015.
Broadcom, which designs and manufactures a wide range of semiconductor and software products, ranked 128 on this year’s Fortune 500. Revenue for the company rose 14.9% in 2021.
Broadcom did not respond to a request for comment.
10. Safra A. Catz, Oracle: $239.5 million
Catz was a banker before she joined Oracle as a Senior Vice President in 1999. She became co-CEO with Mark Hurd in 2014. Hurd stepped down in 2019, citing health issues, and Catz became CEO.
Oracle, which is best known for database software, has struggled in recent years with sluggish revenue growth. The company slid down 11 spots to 91 on the Fortune 500. In December 2021, Oracle announced a $28 billion deal to acquire electronic health records company Cerner; as of May 2022, that deal was still under regulatory review in the U.S. and Europe.
Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.
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