published Sunday, May 4th, 2014

CEO pay: Most top bosses paid more in 2013, but performance-based bonuses vary widely

Tom Watjen, UNUM Group
Tom Watjen, UNUM Group
Photo by Dan Henry.

Highest paid CEOs in 2013

1. Oracle CEO Lawerence J. Ellison, $78.4 million

2. Walt Disney CEO Robert A. Iger, $34.3 million

3. Twenty-First Century Fox CEO Rubert Murdoch, $26.1 million

4. Honeywell International CEO David M. Cote, $25.4 million

5. Emerson Electric CEO David N. Farr, $25.3 million

Source: Equilar of Redwood City, Calif., calculated from 2014 company proxy statements

By the numbers

* $5.1 million - Average pay for CEO of Tennessee publicly traded company

* $37,208 - Average worker pay in Tennessee

* 137:1 - Ratio of CEO pay to average worker

* 9 percent - Average increase in compensation for top 100 U.S. CEOs in 2013

* 29.6 percent - Average gain in stock price of Standard & Poor’s 500 in 2013

Sources: AFL-CIO Paywatch, data for 2012 and 2013, Equilar 100 CEO pay report for 2013. S&P 500

  • photo
    Michael Kramer, FSG Bank
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Dan Frierson, Dixie Group
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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    David Parker, Covenant Transport
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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Chattanooga's highest paid CEO took a pay cut last year, but compensation rose for most of the city's top brass.

With the stock market recording its best gains in 16 years, the leaders of most publicly traded companies were rewarded with bigger bonuses and stock awards during 2013, according to company proxy statements mailed to company shareholders this spring. But even amid last year's bull market, more than a third of the top CEOs in Chattanooga saw their compensation fall as many boards lifted their performance standards for CEO bonuses.

Tom Watjen, CEO of the Unum Group and Chattanooga's highest paid CEO, received a compensation package in 2013 valued at $9.1 million, or nearly 245 times as much as the average worker pay in Tennessee of $37,208. Although Unum boosted earnings last year, and the company's share price jumped by more than 68 percent in 2013, Unum's board still cut Watjen's total compensation by more than a third, in large part because Unum failed to meet all of the top 3-year performance targets for the insurance giant.

The biggest jump in pay for a Chattanooga CEO during 2013 went to Stephen Lebovitz, the 52-year-old son of CBL founder Charles Lebovitz and the CEO of the shopping center developer for the past four years.

CBL's compensation committee decided to award Stephen Lebovitz 142,166 shares of restricted stock valued at $2.5 million, helping to more than triple Lebovitz' compensation package in 2013 over the previous year to more than $5 million. The board's compensation committee said the stock award and other performance bonuses were "a special, one-time compensatory award in recognition of Mr. Lebovitz' contributions to the company's performance through his leadership."

CBL said in a statement to shareholders that "the Compensation Committee does not have a historical practice of making such awards and does not foresee similar grants in the near future."

The pay for the head of America's biggest floorcovering company, Mohawk Industries, also rose last year to a new record high for CEO Jeff Lorberbaum.

Lorberbaum, the 59-year-old CEO of Mohawk, took home an extra 21.9 percent in pay and bonuses in 2013, swelling his compensation to $5.2 million. Two years earlier, Lorberbaum made only $2.7 million.

But Lorberbaum may not notice the extra pay. Forbes magazine recently included Lorberbaum in its list of newest billionaires. The magazine pegs Lorberbaum to be worth at least $1.6 billion primarily because of his 15 percent stake in the company he heads.

Lorberbaum helped boost profits and revenues for Mohawk to record levels in 2013 after a series of acquisitions over his 38 years with the company.

U.S. CEO pay up 9 percent

Nationwide, the top officers of most of America's biggest companies took home bigger paychecks in 2013, largely based upon the improved earnings and stock prices of the companies they head.

In its annual study of the compensation of the top 100 publicly traded companies, Equilar of Redwood City, Calif., said the average CEO of such firms was paid $13.9 million in 2013, up 9 percent from 2012.

Lawrence Ellison, the CEO of software giant Oracle, topped the compensation list at $78.4 million in pay, bonuses and stock awards.

Debate over executive pay

Critics complain that CEO pay is growing far faster than worker pay over the past generation and widening America's income disparity. The AFL-CIO, the nation's biggest labor union, is fighting against what it says is excessive CEO pay that the union calculates has risen eight times faster than the pay for the average worker over the past three decades.

In 1980, CEO pay equaled 42 times the average blue collars workers pay, according to the AFL-CIO calculations. By 2010, the average CEO was paid the equivalent of 343 times what the average blue collar worker was paid.

"CEOs make a ridiculous amount of money," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. Trumka says the pay increases for CEO "has left very little for the rest of us."

But executive pay still represents a tiny fraction of most major company expenses and company boards insist that getting the best talent to run their companies is worth the price.

In reports to shareholders, the companies describe how compensation committees compare pay for executives among other businesses in their industries and how pay is linked to company results.

By linking pay with performance, most CEOs earned less during the recession and were paid more in recent years as their company earnings and stock prices have grown to new records.

With company earnings and stock prices up for most companies, most shareholders endorsed the performance-based compensation plans for company CEOs when asked to vote on the packages last year in new advisory votes. At CBL, 97 percent of the shareholders approved the executive compensation plan last year and 96.2 percent of Mohawk shareholders approved the way top bosses are compensated at the company.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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