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This morning's Wall Street Journal is a real eye-opener.
Leaning on proxy statement analysis by Hay Group, the highest-paid CEOs are singled out. Basing its rankings on total direct pre-tax compensation -- which includes salary, bonuses, and the value of stock and options granted -- in each company's latest fiscal year, there are more than a few surprises.
Now, I'm not the type of person to shake my head at executive compensation. Some of the country's highest-paid chieftains deserve even more than their already lofty pay packages. However, you're going to be shocked at a few of the laggards among the high rollers.
Let's go over the five CEOs with the heaviest paydays.
1. Liberty Media, Gregory B. Maffei, $87.1 million
Maffei's take quadrupled over the previous year, but you won't hear too many investors bellyaching. All three of Liberty's tracking stocks -- covering Liberty's ownership in QVC, Starz, and even the Atlanta Braves -- are trading near multiyear highs.
Maffei's worth it. In fact, just one move last year has more than paid for Liberty's executive ranks.
Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) was in dire straits in February 2009, willing to give away gobs of equity for the right sugar daddy to bail it out of debt repayments it couldn't make on its own. Liberty stepped in through its Liberty Capital (Nasdaq: LCAPA ) subsidiary, agreeing to let Sirius XM borrow more than $500 million at a high interest rate. More importantly for Liberty was the 40% preferred share stake it acquired, just for lending a helping hand.
The satellite radio giant has bounced back in a major way, and there are no more near-term liquidity concerns. Along the way, the stock price has gone from last year's bottom of $0.05 to $1.42, boosting the value of Liberty's 40% stake to more than $3.5 billion.
2. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) , Larry Ellison, $68.6 million
The master of competitive digs and accretive acquisitions had a payday as large as his reportedly oversized ego.
Like Maffei, Ellison is also earning his keep. It's not just about the opportunistic buyouts and the enterprise software behemoth's knack for consistently landing ahead of Wall Street's profit targets. Ellison has been on a roll lately, positioning his company favorably by notable executive hires and positioning Oracle favorably in a copyright infringement case against a major rival.
3. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY ) , Ray Irani, $52.2 million
When you run an oil and gas exploration giant valued at $70 billion, Irani's salary may not necessarily seem outlandish. It's also not just a one-year blip, since it's just a 5% bump in total direct pre-tax compensation from a year earlier.
It appears to be working, since analysts see revenue and earnings growing at healthy double-digit clips in 2010 and 2011. Given some of the spotty performances out of other energy bellwethers, Occidental Petroleum appears to be coasting.
4. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , Carol Bartz, $44.6 million
Finally! A shocker!
Yahoo! hasn't improved much since Bartz arrived early last year. Surely $44.6 million is excessive for a meandering dot-com heavyweight that has been losing executives, letting employees go, and scaling back in key areas.
Now, in her defense, Bartz' base salary was just shy of $1 million last year. Stock options and restricted stock grants made up the lion's share of her $44.6 million. However, she did also receive $1.5 million in annual incentives.
Really? Yahoo! shares are up 33% since she was officially introduced, but that's only about half of the increase in the Nasdaq composite index since mid-January of 2009.
5. CBS (NYSE: CBS ) , Leslie Moonves, $37.6 million
It's unusual to see CBS rank this high, especially since its sister company Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) clocks in right after with CEO Philippe Dauman's $33.7 million package last year.
Then again, shares of CBS climbed nicely last year, and CBS is routinely the primetime ratings champ over its rival networks.
A cynic may wonder if splitting CBS and Viacom into two distinct companies was more about beefing up compensation than unlocking the value in the old Viacom, but CBS appears to be leading the way out of the recession as advertising dollars begin to trickle in.