CEO perks dwindle, but pay holds up

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK ( -- Compensation for chief executives held steady last year, but 2009 was not a good year for perks, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The Corporate Library, an independent watchdog group, said total annual compensation edged up 1.6% last year to a median $1.1 million. Total annual compensation includes base salary, bonus, non-equity incentive pay and other forms compensation.

But total realized compensation, which adjusts for changes in value realized on stock options and other vested equity income, slipped 0.3% last year to a median $1.8 million.

The mixed picture reflects a continued increase in base salaries, although at a slower pace, and a modest increase in the number of bonuses that were handed out last year, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the modest dip in total realized compensation was due to "stagnant stock prices," which resulted in vested options remaining unexercised and restricted stock values that were little changed, the report said.

In a break with the past, the category of all other compensation, in which companies typically disclose CEO perks such as use of private plans and other benefits, fell 18% last year from 2008, according to the report. The drop was largely due to fewer CEOs receiving tax reimbursements for certain perks.

"Most notable is a clear drop in the number of CEOs who received a tax reimbursement in 2009 as compared to 2008," said Corporate Library research associate Greg Ruel, co-author of the survey.

Over half of CEOs overseeing companies in the S&P 500 stock index did not receive tax reimbursements in 2009 after having received one in 2008, the study found.

The Corporate Library also ranked the top 10 highest paid CEOs of 2009.

"Some predictable names were there," said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate and co-author of the report. "However, Henry Culp, the CEO of machinery manufacturer Danaher Corp (DHR, Fortune 500)., has not been featured in the top ranks before."

Culp, who has run the Washington, D.C., company since 2001, received $141,357,486 in total realized compensation last year. The bulk of the pay day came after Clup exercised long-held stock options to the tune of $84 million. Danaher's stock price has gained 225% over the 10 year period that Culp held his options.

A Danaher (DHR, Fortune 500) spokeswoman did not immediately respond to acall requesting comment.

Other top earners included long-standing high earners such as Oracle's (ORCL, Fortune 500) Lawrence Ellison, Robert Kotick of software maker Activision Blizzard, and Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum (OXY, Fortune 500).

Ellison, like other Silicon Valley heavyweights, received only a symbolic $1 in salary in 2009. But the gesture was overshadowed by the value of his other compensation awards, including a grant of 7 million stock options worth more than $78 million.

While overall CEO compensation held steady in 2009, some industries were more lucrative than others.

In the construction materials business, CEO pay fell 33% in 2009 from the year before, while top executives at construction and engineering firms saw their compensation drop 24%.

CEOs at companies in the retail business were among those with the biggest gains. At multiline retailers, CEOs had pay packages that were 73% higher than the prior year, while those in charge of Internet or catalog retail operations were paid 61% more than 2008.

The study was based on U.S. regulatory filings and covered more than 1,000 CEOs. To top of page

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