Highest-paid CEO collected $145.3 million in a year

One-Percenter of the Week: Earning 47% more than the No. 2 chief executive in 2010, McKesson's John Hammergren tops a new list of well-compensated honchos.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 16, 2011 12:39PM

By Michael Brush


At a time when many Americans had to make do with less as companies chopped jobs and pay, it was bonanza time for the nation's CEOs, according to a new study that says CEO take-home pay jumped 36% last year.


But even among the privileged CEO class, one top earner stands out. For leading the newest list of highest-paid CEOs with a paycheck that was a whopping 47% above the No. 2 earner, I'm making John Hammergren, the CEJohn H. Hammergren /© George Nikitin/APO of McKesson (MCK), my third One Percenter of the Week.


Hammergren leads a list of the highest-paid CEOs just published by GMI, an Independent corporate governance research firm, because he took home a cool $145.3 million last year. Joel Gemunder of Omnicare (OCR), No. 2 on the list, earned a paltry $98.3 million.


That gap certainly makes Hammergren the king of the CEO hill. But it's nothing like the pay gap between CEOs and regular workers. The 36% jump in CEO pay last year, which put median pay for S&P 500 CEOs at $8.9 million. In contrast, median annual household pay for Americans actually fell 2.2% last year to $49,445, according to the government.


And Occupy Wall Street shouldn't worry about the widening gap between the rich and everyone else?


Here's how Hammergren took home so much.

  • Much of the increase in overall CEO pay last year was due to an options frenzy as CEOs cashed out in a strong stock market rally, and Hammergren was no exception. He banked profits of more than $112 million in 2010 as he exercised 3.3 million stock options.
  • The value of his retirement benefits rose $13.5 million to more than $83 million.
  • His base salary of $1.7 million was in the top 10% for the S&P 500.
  • He also got a parade of perks worth $1 million. This included $122,000 for home security and monitoring services, $100,500 worth of use of the company aircraft for personal flights, $9,000 for the cost of a personal driver and car, and $16,935 worth of help with his taxes. He perks included $729,000 in company matching contributions to a retirement plan.

Hammergren's biggest payout may still lie ahead. In a takeover scenario for McKesson, Hammergren would be due $469 million, including a $141 million in severance pay, a pension worth $124 million, $90 million in accelerated stock vesting, and a tax gross-up of more than $77 million, according to the report written by GMI's Paul Hodgson.


Falling pay for most households

For a little perspective, the average annual U.S. household income, at $49,445, has fallen so much in the past several years that families now have to make do with the same amount they earned back in 1996, adjusting for inflation. And last year, 2.6 million more people slipped into poverty, increasing the poverty rate to 15.1%, from 14.3% in 2009, according to the Census Bureau.


But in the corner offices in 2010, CEOs were enjoying ever more lavish perks, like private use of company jets, personal chauffeurs and elaborate home security systems (to guard against their properties being occupied by 99 percenters, perhaps?). Home security systems for CEOs, paid for by shareholders, sometimes run as high as $100,000, more than twice what a typical American family makes in a year. Overall, perks given to CEOs at S&P 500 companies rose 11% last year, according to the GMI report.


McKesson declined to respond for comment. But in Hammergren's defense, the company's stock is up more than 117% in the 10 years since Hammergren became CEO. In contrast, the S&P 500 is about flat in those years. In filings, the company points out that earnings at McKesson have grown much faster than earnings at S&P 500 companies, and sales rose steadily on Hammergren's watch -- despite the financial crisis. Revenue grew to $112.1 billion in 2011 from $93 billion in 2007.


Still, $145.3 million is a doozy of an annual pay package, at a time when so many people have to do with so much less. And as companies pinch pennies on worker pay, is any CEO really worth nearly half again as much as any other CEO?


So for earning 47% more than the second-highest-paid CEO -- and about 3,000 times the amount earned by the typical American household -- I have no qualms about making Hammergren my One-Percenter of the Week.


At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own any shares of any stock mentioned in this column. Brush is a Money columnist and the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. His columns appear Wednesdays.


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