2 more $1-or-less CEOs

Ellison certainly isn't the only CEO whose annual salary figure seems irrelevant because he still takes big stock and options grants.

At Duke Energy (DUK, news), for example, CEO James Rogers doesn't even take a buck. He gets zero a year in salary. But throw in generous stock and options grants, and his pay was really $8.8 million in 2010 and $6.9 million the year before. The company says he is paid only in stock to align his interests with those of shareholders, and that he is the largest individual shareholder at the company.

And consider Richard Fairbank, founder and CEO of Capital One Financial (COF, news), who earns $1 a year in salary. In 2010, Fairbank owned, or had exposure to via options, about 9 million Capital One Financial shares, according to company filings, which seems like it ought to be enough to motivate him to drive the company's stock higher.

Yet part of that position came from a large 2010 grant of shares and options valued by the company at $14.7 million at the time. And while taking only $1 in salary that year, he also got $48,886 to cover the cost of a driver and home security -- which is about the typical income for a U.S. household. Some of the stock Fairbank received was linked to performance. Capital One's total return of 11.6% in 2010 beat the S&P Financials Index for the third year in a row, a spokesperson for the bank said.

Google: Saying no to the options bonanza

You might think by now that being a company founder -- like Ellison or Fairbank -- gives someone the clout or the right to regularly extract tens of millions a year in the form of stock options grants. Or you might think those grants are necessary to keep the CEO working and the company growing.

But this isn't so.

Google (GOOG, news) co-founder and CEO Larry Page, along with co-founder Sergey Brin, asked that their salaries be reduced to $1 in 2004, and they have stayed there since. By 2013, they'll have earned just 10 bucks each.

But they've also declined options and stock grants for years. So did Eric Schmidt, who served as CEO for several years until April 2011, when Page took over.

In other words, unlike Ellison at Oracle and Fairbanks at Capital One, Page, Brin and Schmidt don't regularly use their sway over the board to keep extracting more options. And yet, they seem adequately motivated; Google has done OK under their leadership.

It's easy to argue that this is because they already have enough stock. Page and Brin have about 27 million shares each. And that's after some hefty selling. Since 2004, for example, Page has sold 9.6 million shares, or $3.3 billion worth. Schmidt has about 9.1 million shares. (He did go off the no-options policy in 2010, taking about 250,000 shares in stock and options grants last year. And for the past three years, Schmidt has gotten about an additional $300,000 shares a year, mostly as reimbursement for personal security.)

And here's an odd and fun fact: Along with their $1 salaries, these three also get an annual holiday bonus of about $1,700 each. You have to wonder what these billionaires do with that windfall; perhaps it's their Christmas club account.

The most underpaid CEO?

For someone who's really close to actually being a $1 a year CEO, let's turn to John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market (WFM, news).

In 2007, Mackey voluntarily reduced his annual salary to $1 and elected to forgo bonus and options awards. His total pay for 2010 was $45,968, about the median household income in the U.S. He got the $1 salary, and the rest was for "accrued paid time off."

Mackey's decision to decline new options might surprise you, because unlike our other $1 CEOs, he doesn't have that big a stake in the company. He has 1.2 million shares. And he had only about 66,000 options, all exercisable, with a paper value of $1.5 million at the start of the year, according to Equilar.

Since 1993 he has sold 1.3 million shares, grossing $19.4 million, according to Thomson Reuters. Not all of that was profit, since a lot of those shares were converted from options.

Why is Mackey's pay so low, even though he seemingly could extract much more wealth as a co-founder of Whole Foods? The company says it's part of a philosophy of "egalitarian" pay -- a policy that has Whole Foods capping salaries for execs at 19 times the average annual wage of all full-time employees. That average was about $37,000 in 2010, which means execs can't make more than around $700,000 a year in salary. (For a look at CEOs earning the most compared with their own employees, read "7 CEOs pulling in outsized paychecks.")

Though annual pay for two execs topped $4 million in 2010 when options and stock grants are included. Mackey takes only that $1 salary, and no options. This makes him "somebody who is being altruistic for philosophical reasons," says Hodgson, and not just for PR purposes.

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So the next time you joke about "whole paycheck," at least remember that considerably less of the profit from your spending goes to the executives at Whole Foods than goes to their counterparts at other companies where you spend money. Even $1-a-year CEOs are usually taking a lot more off the top.

At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column.

Michael Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. Click here to find Brush's most recent articles and blog posts.

Stocks mentioned on the previous page: Oracle (ORCL, news) and Apple (AAPL, news)