The company awarded Isenberg more than $100 million in bonus pay for his efforts last decade, plus enough stock options and restricted stock to net him more than a half-billion dollars in all, landing him in the seventh position on the list of best-paid CEOs past decade.

6. Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide: $528.6 million

Pay experts cite former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo as a poster child for the kind of problems that can occur when execs get lavish options grants. Huge grants can tempt execs to take on too much risk and do things that are bad for shareholders and the country alike. Mozilo stoked the subprime mortgage machine to boost Countrywide earnings and stock -- and cashed out more than $400 million worth of options as a result. But then the debt instruments built on dubious home mortgages originated by Countrywide blew up, and the company tanked. Banks including Lehman and Merrill were in on this action, too. But Mozilo cashed out so much in options while the bubble was inflating that, among big-bank chiefs involved in the mortgage meltdown, only he made the top 10 list of highest-paid CEOs in the past decade.

5. Richard Fairbank, Capital One: $568.5 million

What's in your wallet? If you're Capital One Financial (COF, news) CEO Richard Fairbank, lots of buying power. The boss of this credit card company realized a cool quarter of a billion dollars by exercising option grants in 2005 after his company's stock had risen eightfold over 10 years under his leadership. Since then, shareholders haven't done so well; the stock price has been cut in half. But Fairbank received so many options earlier in his tenure that he's continued to ring the register, putting himself fifth on the list of highest-paid CEOs of the past decade. "If boards award enough stock options, then the stock doesn't have to do much for a CEO to make a lot of money," says Hodgson. Shareholders lost about 15% during the last decade, though anyone who has owned since the mid-1990s when Fairbank came on board has done very well.

4. Steve Jobs, Apple: $748.8 million

Apple (AAPL, news) CEO Steve Jobs famously gets a salary of only $1 a year. But that hasn't kept him from being one of the best-paid CEOs of the decade. A large grant of restricted stock in 2003 and a string of huge consumer electronic hits that drove Apple stock through the roof was all it took. Critics scoffed as Apple canceled his options in 2003, when they were then worthless, and replaced them with the restricted stock that's added so much to his wealth. But in a twist, had he kept those options, he'd be wealthier still. Should we cry for Steve? There's a reason there's no app for that. He still got a lot of loot -- and a Gulfstream V jet the company gave him in 2000 for business and personal use.

3. Ray Irani, Occidental Petroleum: $857 million

Occidental Petroleum (OXY, news) chairman and CEO Ray Irani was the third-highest-paid CEO in the past decade, thanks to huge dollops of options and restricted stock that paid off handsomely as this energy company's stock advanced sharply. Shareholders have done well, too, earning more than 850% during the same period. Nevertheless, many of them think Irani is overpaid. Shareholders opposed Irani's pay package last year in a nonbinding vote that signals Occidental's board they want change -- perhaps because Irani gets three times as much as other oil company executives.