As early as 2003, Slate was reporting on “tech’s phony dollar-a-year men” — CEOs who publicly forsook their salaries as a faux-altruistic publicity stunt while loading their contracts with millions in stock options, awards and bonuses.
Fast-forward nearly two decades and nine-figure CEO compensation is the norm — and base salaries are still a mere drop in the bucket. Here’s a look at the most outrage-inducing corporate pay packages with “perks” that add nine, 10 or even 11 figures to their salaries.
Elon Musk: Tesla
- Total compensation: $0
Elon Musk famously doesn’t take a salary — but the controversial boss of Tesla and SpaceX isn’t exactly hard-up for cash. According to Reuters, his contract with Tesla gave him the option of buying company stock at a roughly 90% discount, but only after Musk hits predetermined performance milestones called tranches — which he did. That previously translated into new compensation totaling about $23 billion for the year. However, Musk currently receives no compensation from Tesla.
Elon Musk’s Salary and Perks
Musk could be in for another windfall if he can prove his worth to a judge. A lawsuit brought by a shareholder is asking the court to rescind a compensation package approved in 2018 on the grounds that Tesla’s board failed in its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders when it approved the package. Victory could earn Musk a record-breaking $56 billion.
Robert Scaringe: Rivian Automotive
- Total compensation: $2.29 billion
Despite his enormous compensation package, RJ Scaringe — head of EV maker Rivian and one of Musk’s chief competitors — is currently in the billionaire equivalent of the poor house. According to Forbes, Scaringe and Rivian were riding high in 2021, but the fortunes of both the man and his company soured in 2022. Scaringe’s net worth fell from $3.4 billion in 2021 to less than $600 in late 2022.
Robert Scaringe’s Salary and Perks
Rivian was a darling of Wall Street after raising a record $23.1 billion — $11.2 billion as a private firm and $11.9 billion through its November 2021 IPO — but disappointing earnings reports sent Rivian shares plummeting by 68%. The reason Scaringe has lost so much money is that, like Musk, his compensation was based almost entirely on stock awards. As Rivian’s stock value has tumbled from $172 to about $13 since November 2021, so has Scaringe’s fortune.
His most recently reported base salary was $650,000 and his pay package included $126,000 in assorted perks.
Tim Cook: Apple
- Total compensation: $49 million
Tim Cook filled the enormous shoes of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who changed how humans interact with technology. Since taking the helm in 2011, Cook has grown Apple into the biggest company in the world — its $2.41 trillion market cap is 25% larger than that of America’s second-biggest company, Microsoft. Along the way, Cook has amassed a personal fortune of $1.8 billion.
Tim Cook’s Salary and Perks
Tim Cook’s $49 million target compensation for 2023 represents more than a 40% reduction from his 2022 target. Moving forward, his earnings are expected to fall in the 80th to 90th percentile relative to CEOs of companies of similar size, scope and performance.
This salary reduction won’t exactly land Cook in the poor house. His performance-based equity award is increasing 25%. As long as Apple stock does well, so will Cook.
Peter Rawlinson: Lucid Motors
- Total compensation: $556 million
If you’re curious about where the state of the automotive industry is headed, consider that Peter Rawlinson is the third EV executive in the top four on this list. Rawlinson is the CEO and CTO of Lucid, but he cut his teeth at Tesla as the chief engineer of the Model S.
After leaving Musk and company, Rawlinson was instrumental in designing the Lucid Air, a game-changing EV that justifies its price tag — $93,927 to 193,880, according to U.S. News — with faster charging, indulgent luxury, two-second 0-60 acceleration and a battery range of more than 500 miles.
Peter Rawlinson’s Salary and Perks
Lucid valued Rawlinson’s 2021 compensation at $566 million, one of the biggest CEO pay packages of that year. According to Lucid’s SEC filings for 2021 and 2022, Rawlinson’s base salary was $575,000 effective Aug. 2, 2021, and remained unchanged for 2022.
Rawlinson had a disappointing year all around in 2022. Not only did he not get a raise — the company’s compensation committee also opted not to grant him an equity award. However, he received a target cash incentive of 100% of his salary, which, although lower than his 137% target for 2021, could nudge him above the $1 million mark.
Sue Nabi: Coty Inc.
- Total compensation: $283.79 million
According to Crain’s New York, Sue Nabi is one of the beauty industry’s biggest rock stars. The Algeria native was the president of Lanĉome and the CEO of a genderless vegan skincare brand called Orveda. She took over Coty during a time of crisis in 2020 and has since overseen a 307% share price increase since an all-time low on Sept. 1, 2021.
Sue Nabi’s Salary and Perks
Sue Nabi’s 2021 salary — the most recent reported — was about $3.55 million and she got $42,500 in undisclosed perks. The real prize, however, was a $280 million stock award that Bloomberg called “perhaps the biggest CEO pay deal ever granted in the world of beauty.”
According to Crain’s New York, the award includes 30 million shares that were made payable over three years to entice her to stay. But it’s a flawed retention tool because she can cash out a prorated amount if she leaves before the three years are up.
The pay package makes her the highest-earning CEO of any New York-based firm.
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