When regular folks and even well-heeled investors look at executive compensation, it's sometimes hard to not be outraged.
There are countless technology CEOs who make a staggering amount of money without producing the results to justify their salary. Some of these "leaders" even manage to hold onto their jobs despite not earning their enormous paychecks.
However, there are a few tech CEOs who unquestionably earn their paychecks. The numbers may be massive, but this small group of bosses puts up the results that make their high price tags relative bargains. The list is longer than three, but the CEOs highlighted below are the ones our panel of Fools felt were truly worthy every penny they receive.
Joe Tenebruso (Tim Cook, Apple): Replacing the legendary Steve Jobs as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO was an impossible mission -- except for Tim Cook. He took the reigns from Apple's iconoclastic founder on August 24, 2011 -- six weeks before Jobs died -- and few could argue that in the four years since, Tim Cook has done anything but a masterful job in steering the world's most valuable company to new heights.
At a time when critics questioned whether Apple could continue to innovate without Jobs at the helm, Cook helped usher in new products such as the Apple Watch and services like Apple Pay, and he presided over the launch of Apple's most popular iPhones ever, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
That's helped Apple's stock soar from a split-adjusted $50 on the day Cook became CEO to a recent $110. Apple's $650 billion market cap now nearly exceeds that of the two next largest companies -- Microsoft and ExxonMobil -- combined.
Along the way, Cook has instituted the largest capital return program in history -- something Jobs was loath to do -- with $200 billion slated to be returned to Apple shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases by March 2017. Incredibly, even with this massive capital return program under way, Apple has continued to strengthen its fortress-like balance sheet, with cash and investments exceeding $200 billion as of the end of its latest quarter on June 27, 2015.
All told, Apple has never been stronger than it is today, under Cook's leadership. The $65 million he received last year in salary, bonuses, and restricted stock may raise eyebrows, but it pales in comparison to the hundreds of billions of dollars in value he's helped create for Apple and its shareholders.
Daniel Kline (Satya Nadella, Microsoft): Though it was his first year on the job, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella made $84 million in 2014, according to The Seattle Times. That made him the top-paid tech executive, though most of his compensation, nearly $80 million worth, was in stock awards he cannot claim for five years.
At the time that pay was awarded, Nadella was very much a question mark. He was a relative unknown thrust into a very high-profile CEO job, where he easily could have stumbled.
Instead, in less than two years, the new CEO has transformed his company and how people perceive it. Nadella managed to break Microsoft of its ingrained M.O.: as if people had to buy its products. He replaced it with a culture where the company humbly brings its products to wherever the audience is.
Nadella also managed to roll back the mistake that was Windows 8 without walking the company backward. Windows 10 corrects the problems of its predecessor while also advancing the brand. It's a new platform, not a return to Windows 7, and that set the company up for a new era of growth.
Keith Noonan (Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts): When Andrew Wilson took over as CEO of Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) in September 2013, the company had won The Consumerist's Worst Company in America tournament two years running and was staring down the possibility of three-peat. That EA no longer seriously contends for the undesirable title says a good deal about the changes that have taken place at the company.
Less than two years in under new leadership, EA has left behind many of the quality issues that were associated with the brand and delivered huge wins for investors, with earnings per share skyrocketing, and its stock price up roughly 130% over the stretch.
Wilson's "players first" philosophy has been central to EA's turnaround, putting an emphasis on longer development and testing timelines and winning consumer approval instead of moves that might generate short-term windfalls but negatively impact its valuable video game properties. This shift, along with broader industry trends, encourages in-game purchases, which are bolstering the company's share of digital revenue and driving up margins.
After receiving nearly $14 million in salary, bonus, and stock options in 2014, Andrew Wilson is due to receive more than $11 million in compensation for 2015. So far, the executive has earned every bit of his pay.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Joe Tenebruso has no position in any stocks mentioned. Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and Microsoft. 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.