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It wasn't that long ago that I did a write-up on companies that flat out just don't care about their investors. Luckily for us, this isn't the norm. The majority of companies out there still do put investors first -- a concept that I feel has to come straight from the top.
In a perfect world CEOs would be paid based on how their stocks performed -- but as we all know, the stock market isn't perfect. However, there are CEOs out there who truly understand their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. In a sea of hundreds of CEOs, I've uncovered seven that do an exceptional job of putting shareholders first and their own wallets second. Although some of these CEOs are billionaires, make no mistake about it: They are working for you!
Now here's a CEO you can get behind. Richard Kinder, head of Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI ) , has received a $1 salary for the past five years. Rather than pay himself an exorbitant salary, he relies on the same wealth machine that his shareholders rely on: dividends. As owner of more than 200 million shares of Kinder Morgan stock, Richard Kinder stands to make a pretty sum when the $0.29 quarterly distribution begins in May. But so do his shareholders, who stand to receive a 4% annual yield. To top this off, when Kinder Morgan returned to the public markets in February after going private in 2007, Richard Kinder sold none of his shares.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , reminds us that just because you're a billionaire, it doesn't mean you stop working for your shareholders. Despite owning more than 88 million shares of Amazon.com stock, Bezos has taken home less than $7 million in total compensation over the past five years, according to Forbes. This pretty much aligns his pay up with the performance of his stock; a win-win for shareholders. With his company generating $3.5 billion in operating cash flow over the last 12 months on top of an already cash-rich balance sheet, a dividend for shareholders could be right around the corner.
Much like Bezos, Charles Ergen, CEO of DISH Networks (Nasdaq: DISH ) , relies heavily on the performance of his stock to determine his pay. In the past five years, Ergen has only taken home a shade over $6.3 million in total pay. However, he does own more than half of the outstanding shares of DISH Networks. One thing you can be certain of is that he's willing to carefully assess the direction of his business before making a move. Some of you might be scratching your head at Dish's recent purchase of Blockbuster, but rest assured he's put his money where his mouth is, and that he must believe the extra exposure can be nothing but good for DISH Networks and its shareholders.
Does this man really need any introduction? Warren Buffett has basically been the pioneer of the little investor for decades. Heading one of the largest conglomerates around, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) has prided himself on living within his means. At one time the world's richest man, Buffett took home a mere $450,000 salary last year and only $1.51 million in total compensation over the past five years. The oracle of Omaha invests for the long term and holds a major stake in his company, which acts as a stabilizing factor for Berkshire's stock.
As amazing as this might be to believe, not everything that is Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) is evil. In fact, CEO Steve Ballmer has been a champion of the shareholders' cause for much of the past decade. Ballmer, who has received just $6.23 million in total compensation in the past five years, relies on dividends and his large position in Microsoft's stock to pad his income. The great part here is that if Ballmer wants a raise, he simply needs to raise the dividend, rewarding himself and shareholders. It should be no surprise then that Microsoft's dividend has doubled since 2005 and now yields a handsome 2.3% annually.
Some of you are probably scratching your heads, asking, "Marc who?" Marc Benioff is CEO of salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) , and all he's done is net shareholders a 494% return off the company's November 2008 lows. With no dividend currently being paid, Benioff relies on his 10 million shares of salesforce.com stock to pad his wallet. You'd think a near-quintupling in the price of salesforce.com would merit a pay raise, but Benioff chooses to align his own pay with that of his shareholders, receiving only a $1.35 million salary in the most recent year.
Perhaps no CEO's fortune is more tied to stock prices than that of Harold Hamm. Hamm is the CEO of oil and natural gas exploration company Continental Resources (NYSE: CLR ) and currently owns more than two-thirds of the shares outstanding. Hamm has received only $12.7 million in total compensation over the past four years, but has more than $8 billion of his personal wealth tied up in company stock. If anything, Hamm's willingness to put such a vast chunk of his wealth behind the company signifies a vote of confidence in its future and gives stability to shareholders in an otherwise turbulent market.
Do you feel like these CEOs are doing everything they can for you? Perhaps you have a CEO you'd like to nominate that I've left off the list. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and consider adding these and your own personalized list of companies to My Watchlist.