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Revealed: CEOs with the most jaw-dropping bonus payments

Revealed CEOs with the most jaw-dropping bonus payments
  • Elon Musk received the highest CEO bonus payment ever in 2018 when he was awarded $2.23 billion in stock options.
  • For every dollar the average Oracle employee earned, Safra Catz took home $1,723 in bonuses.
  • On average, CEOs are paid more in stocks and options than salary and cash bonuses combined.

A new study has named Elon Musk as the CEO who received the most jaw-dropping bonus payment in recent years.

The analysis undertaken by The Stock Dork examined bonus payments of CEOs from the top 50 market cap companies over the last five years to determine those with the highest compensation payments and average compensation over the period.

The CEO with the most impressive average yearly bonus is Elon Musk of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA).

Musk’s average yearly bonus stands at an impressive $456.7 million. A significant chunk of this average was influenced by a massive one-time stock option bonus of $2.23 billion in 2018, the largest ever given to a CEO.

If Elon Musk had received this monumental bonus today, it would equate to the Tesla CEO taking home $67,011 for every $1 earned by his median-paid employees.

While his substantial earnings are closely tied to performance-based stock options, this direct comparison highlights the significant wage disparity within the company’s leadership.

In second place is Sundar Pichai of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL).

His average yearly bonus is a whopping $98.9 million. In 2022 he received $10 million as a cash bonus and $42.2 million as stocks, which means that for every dollar the median Google employee earned, Sundar Pichai took home $275 in bonus payments.

Securing third place is Andy Jassy of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). Andy Jassy’s yearly bonus average lands at $53.4 million.

The Amazon CEO’s highest recent bonus was in 2021, when he received a $211 million equity bonus.

Andy Jassy collected $6,198 as bonus payments for every dollar the typical Amazon worker made.

In fourth place, we find Tim Cook of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), whose yearly bonus averages $46.7 million. In 2022, Tim was awarded $82 million in stocks, which means that for every dollar the average Apple employee earned that year, their CEO took home $982 in stock bonuses.

Though Tim was also awarded a $12 million cash bonus, Apple heavily leans on stock awards for executive bonuses, ensuring that CEO interests align with those of the shareholders.

Safra Catz of Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) takes the fifth spot with an average bonus of $43.1 million a year.

In 2022, Safra was awarded $129 million in stock options, which, when broken down, reveals that for every dollar earned by the average Oracle employee, Safra took home $1,723 in bonuses.

Stock awards comprise a considerable portion of her compensation, reflecting Oracle’s long-term growth strategy.

In sixth place is Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO, Satya Nadella, who receives an average bonus of $41.2 million each year.

Securing the seventh spot is Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), who receives an average yearly bonus of $41.3 million.

Eighth is Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), who receives an average yearly bonus of $40.6 million. 

Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) CEO Patrick P. Gelsinger ranks ninth with a yearly bonus of $37.2 million, and Adobe’s (NASDAQ: ADBE) CEO Shantanu Narayen secures the tenth position with an average annual bonus of $34.9 million.

The disparity in bonus payments between CEOs and median employees touches on larger issues of income inequality in corporate settings.

Such wage gaps can impact employee morale and retention, shape public perception of companies, and have broader economic ramifications due to concentrated wealth.

While some argue that CEOs’ unique responsibilities and pressures justify their high compensation, concerns about fairness, equity, and the collective contribution of all employees to a company’s success remain central to the debate.

Balancing the attraction of top leadership talent with broader social and economic implications poses an ongoing challenge for businesses.

Speaking on the findings, Adam Garcia, Founder of The Stock Dork said:

“It’s intriguing to observe the compensation models of renowned CEOs. For instance, in 2022, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta Platforms chose a symbolic $1 salary and forwent any bonus.

However, he received $27 million in other compensation-like awards, covering 401(k) investments and security costs.”

“Many top executives increasingly favor stocks, options, and performance-related rewards. This shift in strategy aligns CEOs’ incentives with their companies’ growth and is well-received by board members.”

“Many CEOs are rewarded with stock options, granting them the right to purchase shares often at a price lower than the market value.

For example, if the option’s strike price is $50 but the market value is $250, the CEO effectively gets each share which they can immediately sell at a $200 discount.”

CEOs with the most jaw-dropping bonus payments

Top 50 CEOs' average yearly bonusCEOs with highest bonuses CEOs with the most jaw-dropping bonus payments CEOs with high bonuses

Highest Cash Bonus (Past Six Years)

Highest Stocks & Options Bonus (Past Six Years)

Methodology

The study:

For this analysis, The Stock Dork used data from the companies’ most recent financial statements, SEC filings, and public annual reports.

This data was then cross-referenced to ensure accuracy, with a focus specifically on the bonus component of executive compensation.

The CEO bonus pay ratio, which compares the bonus payments of a company’s chief executive to the median salary of its workforce, was also included to offer a more comprehensive perspective.

Market cap data is correct as of 1/24/24.

Bonus:

Bonus is classed as cash, stocks, and stock options awarded.

Everything that isn’t a base salary or ‘total other’ in sec filings.

Salaries:

Some of these CEOs have changed roles and weren’t in the CEO position before this year.

In those cases, the previous year’s salary or bonuses will still be counted to give a better earnings perspective.

Time:

To give a better overall picture of bonus payments, the most recent five-year period was chosen and used to base averages.

Tanvi Dasaur is a vibrant multi-tasker, juggling the worlds of copywriting and marketing, with a flair for sales, operations, and personal finance. Beyond her professional pursuit of deadlines, data, and trends, Tanvi is a melomaniac and savvy investor, who believes in the power of smart financial planning and long-term investing. She finds joy in the little things – playtime with her Goberian and bunnies, a well-written line, a smart investment decision, or a song that just gets her. Tanvi strongly believes that best stories are those that blend passion with purpose, and she aspires to infuse her own journey with this ethos. She is also a fervent advocate for the concept of gamifying life and approaches each day as a fresh opportunity for growth, learning, and leveling up.