They're the $10 million dollar men and women. Propelled by a soaring stock market, the median pay package for a CEO rose above eight figures for the first time last year. The head of a typical large public company earned a record $10.5 million, an increase of 8.8 percent from $9.6 million in 2012, according to an Associated Press/Equilar pay study.
Last year was the fourth straight that CEO compensation rose following a decline during the Great Recession. The median CEO pay package climbed more than 50 percent over that stretch. A chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker's salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009.
The best paid CEO last year led an oilfield-services company. The highest paid female CEO was Carol Meyrowitz of discount retail giant TJX, owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall's. And the head of Monster Beverage got a monster of a raise.
Over the last several years, companies' boards of directors have tweaked executive compensation to answer critics' calls for CEO pay to be more attuned to performance. They've cut back on stock options and cash bonuses, which were criticized for rewarding executives even when a company did poorly. Boards of directors have placed more emphasis on paying CEOs in stock instead of cash and stock options.
The change became a boon for CEOs last year because of a surge in stocks that drove the Standard & Poor's 500 index up 30 percent. The stock component of pay packages rose 17 percent to $4.5 million.
Top CEOs whose pay plunged the most
1. Willard Oberton, Fastenal, $794,761, down 79 percent
2. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, $485,606, down 77 percent (*)
3. Michael Duke, Wal-Mart, $5.6 million, down 73 percent
4. John Richels, Devon Energy, $3.7 million, down 71 percent
5. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, $653,165, down 67 percent (*)
Both Zuckerberg and Buffett own large parts of their respective companies, and the vast majority of their wealth comes from their ownership stakes, not their salaries as CEOs. Zuckerberg, in particular, elected to take a symbolic $1 salary in 2013, down from $503,205 in 2012. Buffett for many years has had one of the lowest base salaries of the S&P 500 CEOs, at $100,000.
"Companies have been happy with their CEOs' performance and the stock market has provided a big boost,'' says Gary Hewitt, director of research at GMI Ratings, a corporate governance