CEO pay climbed 5 percent last year: report

CEOs of the country’s biggest companies in 2020 experienced a total average pay increase of 5 percent from the previous year, even as the coronavirus pandemic fueled immense losses for businesses across the globe, according to an analysis published by The Associated Press. 

The AP reported Friday that based on analysis from corporate leadership data firm Equilar, the median total compensation for executives in 2020 was $12.7 million, marking a record high in the firm’s nearly 10-year history of collecting data on annual CEO compensation. 

The report noted that the 5 percent growth from 2019 to 2020 outpaced the 4.1 percent median pay increase measured from 2018 to 2019.


Equilar found that 4 of the top 10 highest-paid CEOs included in the study also appeared in the 2019 top 10 list, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Comcast’s Brian Roberts and Shantanu Narayen of Adobe Systems. 

The highest paid executive in 2020 was Chad Richison of Paycom Software, with a total compensation of more than $211 million, according to Equilar. 

The AP noted that even as coronavirus lockdown orders and restrictions led to financial cutbacks at several businesses, many company boards were able to implement changes to maintain executive pay levels. 

For example, Advance Auto Parts CEO Tom Greco earned $8.1 million in 2020, a 4.7 percent increase from the previous year, in part due to the board’s compensation committee excluding certain expenses from the pandemic from its calculations, including costs for safety equipment and extended sick-pay benefits. 

Sarah Anderson, head of the global economy project at the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies, told the AP that amid the pandemic, 2020 “should have been a year for shared sacrifice.” 

“Instead it became a year of shielding CEOs from risk while it was the frontline employees who paid the price,” she added. 


The gains among CEOs also applied to most women in charge of some of the largest companies in the U.S., though the AP also reported Friday that the median pay for female CEOs actually dropped by 2 percent in 2020. 

Based on the AP and Equilar analysis, the number of female executives also fell in 2020. Out of 342 CEOs of S&P 500 companies included in the report, just 16 were women, a decrease of 20 from the year prior. 

The study only included CEOs who have served at least two fiscal years at their companies. 

The report adds further scrutiny to top executives who have seen high profits in the past year amid the economic hardship experienced by many during the pandemic. 

The Bloomberg Billionaire Index released earlier this year revealed that the world’s 500 richest people added roughly $1.8 trillion to their combined wealth in 2020, bringing them to a total net worth of $7.6 trillion.

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