Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) had a decent decade to say the least. In fact, it was the top performing S&P 500 stock over the past decade (up more than 3,000%). In an endless pursuit to discover the next multibagger, I set out to find what made Apple a unique investment opportunity 10 short years ago.

Apple was unique in numerous ways but not the least of which was the pay structure of the top executive.   

A Jobs well done
CEO Steve Jobs' salary for the past decade was a whopping $1 per year. That's right. Your salary was higher than his. However, what he does have that you don't is 5.5 million shares of Apple or 5.5 million reasons to see to it that Apple's stock price appreciates, especially since his salary was, and still is, a meager $1 a year. 

The incentive-based pay structure proved to be a winning formula for Apple. The stock shot up more than 3,000% over the past decade, and consequently, Jobs' 5.5 million shares are currently worth just under $2 billion.

This is an example of executive compensation strictly based on stock performance, which is the best kind of compensation for us because the interests of the CEO are the same as the shareholders.

So what's the alternative? The alternative is a company headed by a CEO who collects a seven-figure salary regardless of stock performance. Or one whose incentives are based on short-term goals that may actually harm the long-term health of the business.

Given a choice, I would rather own shares in a company in which the CEO's pay, or lack thereof, hinges on the performance of the stock (like Apple).    

This is the ultimate vote of confidence in a company -- CEOs who are willing to forgo a salary and let their fortune ride on the performance of the company's stock.

A dollar and a dream
OK, so you missed out on the best-performing stock of the previous decade. The good news is there are some other CEOs following the same "pay for performance" model. For instance:



Salary (2010)


Market Value

Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI) John Mackey $1 1,071,271 $64,961,812
Kinder Morgan Partners (NYSE: KMP) Richard Kinder $1 308,100 $22,269,468

Now obviously, just because a CEO owns a lot of stock doesn't mean the stock is destined for greatness. Looking at CEOs like John Mackey and Steve Jobs, you also have two visionary leaders who are deeply committed to their company's success. An attribute like that is also important.

Finally, it's worth noting that stock options don't always end the chase for short-term options, so studying the way leaders are compensated with options is important as well.

However, a quick glance at insider ownership is a good starting point in your search for the next Apple. 

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Fool contributor Adam J. Crawford does not own any shares of any company mentioned in this article. Apple and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has written puts on Apple. The Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.