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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 22, 2006

CEOs making 430 times that of average worker

By Adam Geller
Associated Press

NEW YORK More companies are listening to investors' criticism that they overpay chief executives, but that doesn't mean businesses have fixed the problem.

CEO pay continued to climb in 2005, although not nearly as rapidly as in recent years, new surveys show. The median pay to CEOs rose 11.3 percent, according to a survey of more than 550 companies by The Corporate Library, a governance firm.

For CEOs at the largest firms, however, pay rose 3.7 percent to a median of $5.2 million.

But the size of the typical CEO's raise varied greatly by which companies were counted, and overall figures obscure wide variations in pay. A closer look at individual companies show that more than one in four granted their CEOs raises of at least 25 percent, according to a survey of nearly 200 large firms by compensation analyst Equilar Inc.

The newest raises for top executives mean the pay of the average CEO at a Standard & Poor's 500 firm is now 430 times that of the average U.S. worker more than 10 times what it was in 1980, according to the AFL-CIO.

Once again, the largest payouts went to CEOs cashing in huge numbers of stock options.

Tops on that list was Richard D. Fairbank, the chairman and chief executive of Capital One Financial Corp., the credit card issuer. Fairbank, who earned no salary or bonus, was paid almost entirely in a grant of new options this year, valued at just over $18 million. That paled, however, with the $249.3 million Fairbank earned last year by exercising previously issued options.

The list of those who profited most handsomely from cashing in options also included Bruce Karatz, the CEO of builder KB Home Inc., who pocketed $118.4 million.

In many cases, such gains went to executives who have held on to options for years, waiting for their stock price to rebound. In the last few years, many companies have cut back on the number of options they issue, moving to restricted stock and long-term incentive payouts.

The days of huge options payouts are hardly over. More than 80 percent of large companies still include options in CEO compensation. But gauging the suitability of CEO pay packages increasingly requires investors and directors to focus on the size of future grants, rather than leftovers from the past, compensation experts say.

And even as more companies embrace changes designed to link CEO pay to executives' proven ability to deliver results over time, serious disconnects remain, experts say.

"I think some of the companies are trying to improve the situation," said Paul Hodgson, a compensation expert for The Corporate Library.

The slow pace of change means some companies continue to pay CEOs far out of proportion to the results they deliver to shareholders, experts say.

For example, AT&T Inc. until recently known as SBC Communications Inc. paid CEO Edward E. Whitacre $17.1 million last year, a 15 percent increase. That raise brought his total pay over the past five years to more than $85 million, even though that shareholder return the potential gain to investors who own its stock is down 40 percent over that period, according to analysis by Hodgson's firm.

While companies have been slow to rein in pay, some are being more up front about the way they compensate their CEOs. Such detail will be required beginning next year, when new rules proposed by the Securities & Exchange Commission are to take effect, requiring more disclosure of executive pay packages.

Compensation experts say mandated disclosure could act as a disinfectant in corporate board rooms, forcing directors to more closely examine the way they pay CEOs and eliminating the worst abuses. But the value of the increased information will only be realized if activist investors speak up, they say.