It's nearly impossible for any of us to imagine earning just $1 a year for the work that we do, but many CEOs take exactly that much for their annual salary. Of course, we all know that doesn't mean we should set up a GoFundMe page to help them out with their rent. CEOs who take a low salary often do so as a symbolic gesture to show that their main purpose is to grow their company, and not just to earn lots of money.
While the salaries on this list are staggeringly low, these CEOs receive lots of other compensation in the form of stock options, share-based compensation, and expenses that get paid by their companies.
Annual salary: $1
Zuckerberg started earning just $1 from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) in 2013, a year after taking the company public. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing in April showed that Zuckerberg also received compensation totaling nearly $5.8 million to cover the costs of personal security at his home and while traveling, as well as costs for traveling on private aircraft.
Of course, Zuckerberg's net worth is tied to Facebook's share price, which continues to skyrocket. Zuckerberg's net worth has grown from about $19 billion in 2012 to $64.5 billion currently -- mainly because the company's stock price has jumped 288% since then. While Zuckerberg only brings in $1 per year, he's still the fifth richest person in the world.
Annual salary: $1
Snap's (NYSE:SNAP) co-founder and CEO began taking $1 annual salary earlier this year, just after his company went public in February. The company's Snapchat app is still trying to prove its staying power in a sea of social media and messaging apps, and Spiegel's low salary is an indication that he's betting on the company over the long haul.
Before going public, Snap paid Spiegel a base salary of more than $503,000 last year, in addition to a $1 million bonus, and over $900,000 in other compensation (including $890,339 for personal security).
But Spiegel's compensation now comes from the value of his more than 200 million shares of the company, which puts his net worth at about $3.9 billion.
Spiegel also received a huge bonus of 3% of the company's outstanding shares, which totaled about $800 million at the time.
Annual salary: $45,760
Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk earned an official salary of just under $46,000 last year, which Tesla said is "consistent with minimum wage requirements under applicable California laws," but the company added that Musk "currently does not accept his salary." Musk co-founded the the all-eclectic-vehicle company in 2003, took it public in 2010. Deliveries of the company's fourth vehicle -- the Model 3 -- should begin at the end of this month.
Musk famously works long hours and admitted on a conference call last year that he keeps a sleeping bag at Tesla's vehicle-production factory. To account for all of Musk's work, Tesla has given him the option to buy 5.27 million shares of the company's stock at just $31.17 per share (the current price is about $350 per share), if Musk hits a series of milestones. The objectives include both operational and market-value goals, including maintaining a sustained market capitalization of $43.2 billion or more, and achieving a gross margin of at least 30% for four consecutive quarters by 2022. Bloomberg recently valued Musk's options at $1.4 billion, once he achieves all the objectives.
Annual salary: $0
Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey doesn't earn a dime from the company for his annual salary, though he does receive $68,506 to cover the cost of his residential security and protective detail.
At the end of last year Dorsey owned 3.4% of his company, but he's since gone on a buying spree. In February of this year he purchased about 426,000 shares of Twitter stock, and then bought an additional 574,000 shares in April. Dorsey can afford the purchases because he's been selling shares from the other company he runs, Square, to the tune of about $31 million so far this year.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Annual salary: $1
Larry Page is the CEO and Sergey Brin is the president of the technology conglomerate and Google parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL). The tech company made its name change and restructured its businesses just two years ago, but Page and Brin have been taking a $1 salary since Google went public in 2004.
Alphabet's latest proxy statement showed that Page owned about 19.95 million Class B shares and Brin owned 19.35 million, which gives the two executives a controlling stake in Alphabet of 51.1%. And not only do those shares allow Page and Brin to control Alphabet, but they're also the reason why each of them has a net worth of more than $42 billion.
Annual salary: $1
The co-founder and CEO of the Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) grocery chain started taking a $1 annual salary back in 2006. Mackey is a founding part of the Conscious Capitalism movement (he even wrote a book about it), which promotes doing business that's "grounded in ethical consciousness."
That's likely why Whole Foods caps its executives' pay at 19 times its average employees' salary. That may seem high, but Bloomberg said recently that many companies pay their executives an average of 300 times their employees' average salary.
Of course, Mackey has benefited financially from his position. He made an estimated $9 million just last month when Amazon.com bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.
Annual salary: $1
Stoppelman co-founded the restaurant- and local-business-review company Yelp (NYSE:YELP) in 2004 and started taking a $1 base salary pay in 2013. But of course that doesn't mean he's been scrounging around for cash to cover his meals.
In 2016, Stoppelman was paid about $59,000 from Yelp for everything from health insurance premiums to parking fees. But his real earnings came from stock options awarded to him by the company. Stoppelman owns about $7.2% of Yelp's stock, and the options he received totaled about $3.6 million last year, which was a huge increase from the $919,000 he received the year before
Aside from the powerful symbolism of taking a low base salary, there is also a significant tax benefit from doing so. A CEO's salary could easily fall into the top U.S. tax bracket, which could cost an executive up to 39.6% of their salary. Many CEOs take their compensation through various stock plans because the government taxes capital gains on stock sales at a maximum of 20%. Based on those numbers, and the actual compensation may CEOs are bringing in each year, it's clear that a $1 salary goes pretty far these days -- at least, if you happen to be a CEO.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Facebook, Tesla, Twitter, and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Yelp. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.