CEO Salary and Pay

In today’s business world, the compensation packages awarded to top executives, such as Corporate Directors, VPs and particularly Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), play a crucial role in shaping corporate behaviour, performance, and accountability. Corporate governance has evolved significantly, with executive compensation emerging as a central aspect.

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

Chief Executive Officer pay has experienced significant growth over the past few decades, drawing attention to the widening gap between executive compensation and the average worker wages. Aided by factors like globalisation, increasing market competition, and the demand for top executive talent, CEO pay growth has reached unprecedented levels in many countries. This article will examine the various aspects of CEO pay and compensation and their importance in modern corporate governance.

Historical Evolution of CEO Compensation

The history of CEO compensation is a fascinating journey that reflects the changing dynamics of business, economics, and corporate governance. From humble beginnings to the astronomical pay packages of today’s executives, let’s explore the key milestones and trends that have shaped the historical evolution of CEO compensation.

  • Early Days of CEO Pay: CEO compensation was relatively low and frequently fixed in the early years of corporations and closely correlated with business success. During this period, CEOs were seen as stewards of the company, working in the best interest of shareholders.
  • Performance-Based Compensation Era: In the mid-20th century, we have shifted toward performance-based compensation. Stock options gained prominence as a way to align the interests of CEOs with those of shareholders, tying executive salaries to the company’s financial performance and stock price, thus creating a link between the CEO and the company’s success.
  • The Emergence of CEO Superstar: The late 20th century saw the rise of the “superstar” CEO phenomenon. CEOs with exceptional leadership skills and a track record of turning around struggling companies were in high demand. This era was characterised by skyrocketing CEO pay, often justified by the notion that top talent commanded top dollar. This shift focused on short-term financial gains, sometimes resulting in excessive CEO pay packages driven by stock options and bonuses.
  • Regulatory Interventions: As CEO pay reached astronomical levels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, shareholder activists and corporate governance advocates began to voice concerns. The Enron scandal in the USA and other corporate failures highlighted the need for greater transparency and accountability in executive compensation. Shareholder activism gained momentum as investors demanded better alignment between pay and performance.

In response to increasing concerns, regulatory interventions began to shape CEO compensation. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the United States introduced “say-on-pay” votes, giving shareholders the right to approve or reject executive pay packages. Similar regulatory changes also occurred in other countries, emphasising transparency and shareholder input.

Current Focus

CEOs’ rewards have been for long-term value creation rather than short-term gains in recent years. Performance metrics have evolved to include non-financial factors such as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. This shift reflects a growing recognition of the broader impact of CEOs on their companies and society.

The growing disparity between CEO pay and average worker wages has also sparked debates about income inequality and corporate ethics. Activists, academics, and policymakers have called for responsible compensation practices that address these concerns and promote a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

CEO Compensation Trends in the UK

The United Kingdom has a prosperous business and corporate governance history, and its approach to CEO compensation has evolved in response to changing economic conditions, societal expectations, and regulatory reforms.

The need to align pay with performance, uphold corporate governance standards, and meet the expectations of the shareholders, stakeholders, and the more comprehensive public drives the UK’s journey towards more transparent, accountable, and responsible executive compensation practices. 

This section will look into the trends that have shaped CEO compensation in the UK over the years, highlighting key developments, challenges, and the ongoing quest for responsible and transparent remuneration practices.

  • Early Years: A focus on traditional fixed salaries and modest bonuses characterised the UK’s early decades of CEO compensation. However, as global markets expanded and competition intensified, executive pay structures shifted toward performance-based incentives, such as stock options and equity grants. In the late 20th century, shareholder activism increased in the UK, with investors demanding greater transparency and accountability in executive pay decisions. Shareholder votes on executive compensation (“say-on-pay”) became a tool to align organisational rewards with company performance and shareholder interests.
  • The Impact of the Financial Crisis: The global financial crisis of the late 2000s prompted renewed scrutiny of executive compensation practices. As the public and policymakers sought explanations for the problems, the role of excessive risk-taking incentivised by short-term performance-based pay came under question. The early 2000s saw influential reports by Derek Higgs (2003) and Sir David Walker (2009), emphasising the importance of sound corporate governance and executive compensation practices. The reports advocated for greater board independence, clear remuneration policies, and improved shareholder communication.
  • Regulations and Disclosure Requirements: The UK has implemented several regulatory measures to enhance transparency and oversight of executive compensation. The Companies Act 2006 introduced requirements for companies to disclose executive pay details in annual reports, giving shareholders and the public greater insight into the components and structure of executive pay packages.
  • Diversity and Shift to Long-Term Value Creation: In recent years, UK shareholders have increasingly engaged in executive pay discussions. Institutional investors and proxy advisory firms actively evaluate compensation packages, advocate for pay-for-performance alignment, and engage with companies on responsible remuneration practices. There is a growing emphasis on linking executive compensation to long-term value creation and sustainability. UK companies are incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into compensation decisions, recognising that CEOs’ decisions have far-reaching implications beyond financial metrics. The UK’s focus on diversity and gender equality has also extended to executive compensation. Companies are under increasing pressure to address gender pay gaps and promote diversity at the executive level, which has led to discussions about fairness and equitable compensation practices.
  • Current Statistics: According to a report by The Guardian, the median pay of FTSE 100 Chief Executives has reached £3.9m in 2022. Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca, was the highest-paid CEO last year, collecting £15.3m. while Charles Woodburn, CEO of BAE Systems and Albert Manifold, the CEO of building supplies company CRH, were 2nd and 3rd highest paid with total pay of £10.7m and £10.4m, respectively.

Comparative Analysis: Global and European Perspectives

Executive compensation practices vary globally due to differences in economic conditions, cultural norms, regulatory frameworks, and corporate governance philosophies.

Comparative analysis of executive compensation practices globally and within Europe highlights the intricate relationship between economic, cultural, and regulatory factors. Understanding these variations is essential for fostering informed discussions on responsible executive compensation, promoting good governance, and aligning pay practices with long-term shareholder and stakeholder interests.

The US is the highest-paying country in the world regarding CEO compensation. According to a CNBC ( report, Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone, was paid the most amongst the highest-paid CEOs in 2022 with a total compensation of $253m, while Sundar Pichai of Alphabet came 2nd with a total compensation of $226m. Stephen Scherr, CEO of Hertz, came third with a total earnings of $182m.

As companies continue to operate in an increasingly interconnected world, the lessons learned from these diverse perspectives contribute to shaping the future of executive compensation on a global scale.

This section will review a comparative analysis of executive compensation in both a global and European context, exploring the diversity of practices, expected trends, and unique challenges companies and policymakers face.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Ave Calvar

Global Executive Compensation Landscape

  • United States: The average pay of a CEO in the US is $193,027 p.a. with additional average cash benefits of $225,008, according to salary source: CEO in 2023 | GlassdoorThe US is known for high CEO pay and performance-based compensation. Stock options and equity grants are prevalent, and the pay gap between CEOs and average workers is substantial.
  • Japan: An average yearly base salary of a CEO in Japan is ¥11,000,000 with additional average cash benefits of ¥1,000,000 according to salary source: CEO in Tokyo, Japan 2023 | Glassdoor. Japan is historically characterised by more conservative executive pay practices, focusing on long-term stability over short-term incentives and limited use of performance-based incentives.
  • United Kingdom: An average yearly base salary of a CEO in the UK is £200,259 with additional average cash benefits of £107,508, according to salary source: CEO in August 2023 | Glassdoor. The UK emphasises transparency, accountability, and shareholder engagement. It focuses on “say-on-pay” votes, remuneration committee responsibilities, and disclosure of executive pay components.
  • ChinaAn average yearly base salary of a CEO in China is CN¥906,756 with additional average cash benefits of CN¥366,756 according to salary source: CEO in China August 2023 | GlassdoorChina has a rapidly evolving compensation landscape due to economic growth. It combines traditional fixed salaries with performance-based incentives. Growing pay due to economic growth.
  • Canada: A CEO’s average yearly base salary in Canada is $205,742 with additional average cash benefits of $80,398, according to salary source: CEO in Canada August 2023 | Glassdoor with an emphasis on performance-based compensation, extensive stock options and equity grants. Its focus is on responsible corporate governance.

European Executive Compensation Trends

  • Germany: A CEO’s average yearly base salary in Germany is €118,278 with additional average cash benefits of €22,200 according to salary source: CEO in Munich (Germany) 2023 | GlassdoorGermany’s two-tier board structure with worker representation influences executive compensation decisions. It emphasises long-term performance and balanced compensation structures.
  • France: A CEO’s average yearly base salary in France is €90,000 with additional average cash benefits of €19,500 according to salary source: Chief Executive Officer in Paris, France 2023 | Glassdoor. Key features include a high degree of regulation, with caps on severance pay and performance-based bonuses. Shift towards linking executive compensation to environmental and social goals.
  • Netherlands: The average yearly base salary of a CEO in the Netherlands is €106,067 with additional average cash benefits of €25,000 according to salary source: CEO in 2023 | Glassdoor. The Netherlands emphasises transparency, disclosure, and shareholder engagement. Strives for a balanced approach to executive compensation, emphasising long-term performance.
  • Italy: An average yearly base salary of a CEO in Italy is €87,871 with additional average cash benefits of €30,000 according to salary source: CEO in August 2023 | GlassdoorGenerally, there is lower CEO pay than Northern European counterparts, emphasising traditional salary-based compensation and regulatory variations in compensation practices.

Common Challenges

  • Shareholder Activism: Increasing influence of institutional investors and shareholders in shaping executive compensation decisions through “say-on-pay” votes and engagement.
  • Long-Term Value Creation: This is a shift towards aligning executive compensation with long-term company performance and sustainability goals.
  • Performance Metrics and ESG: This incorporates non-financial metrics, such as environmental, social, and governance factors, into compensation structures.
  • Gender Pay Gap and Diversity: Growing focus on addressing gender pay gaps and promoting diversity within executive ranks.
  • Regulatory Reforms: Legislative interventions enhance transparency, accountability, and responsible executive compensation practices.

Components of CEOs’ Compensation Packages

The compensation packages of top CEOs provide a window into the complex world of executive remuneration. Comparative analysis across industries and countries sheds light on the factors contributing to high salaries, including global competition, talent scarcity, performance expectations, and regulatory influences.

CEO compensation packages have various components that create a comprehensive and often complex structure. These components align the CEO’s interests with the company’s performance, long-term value creation, and shareholder expectations. Here are some standard features of CEO compensation packages:

  • Base Salary: The fixed amount paid to the CEO annually. It serves as the foundation of their compensation package and reflects their role and responsibilities. The median FTSE 100 CEO was paid £3.91 million in 2022, which is the highest average CEO salary since 2017 and is an increase of 16% on the median FTSE 100 CEO pay in 2021, which stood at £3.38 million – source: High Yay Centre (
  • Annual Bonus: A variable cash payment awarded to the CEO based on achieving specific short-term goals, such as financial targets or operational milestones. 96% of FTSE 100 companies paid their CEO a bonus in 2022, compared to 87% in 2021. However, the mean bonus payment decreased slightly from £1.43 million in 2021 to £1.41 million in 2022 – source: High Pay Centre (
  • Long-Term Incentives: These components tie the CEO’s compensation to the company’s long-term performance and shareholder value. They encourage CEOs to make decisions that will positively impact the company’s trajectory over several years. 74% of FTSE 100 companies paid their CEO a Long-Term Incentive Payment (LTI), up from 71% in 2021. The mean LTI payment increased from £1.49 million in 2021 to £1.79 million in 2022 – source: High Pay Centre ( A common form of (LTI) includes equity grants, which provide the CEO with ownership in the company. These can consist of stock options, RSUs, or performance shares.
  • Stock Options: The right to purchase company stock at a predetermined price (strike price), incentivising CEOs to increase the company’s stock price.
  • Restricted Stock Units (RSUs): This is where shares of company stock are granted to the CEO but subject to a vesting period before they can be sold or exercised.
  • Performance Shares: Share grants are tied to achieving specific performance metrics, such as revenue growth or earnings per share targets.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

  • Retirement and Deferred Compensation: Contributions to retirement plans, such as pension schemes, which can accumulate over time. Deferred compensation plans may allow CEOs to defer a portion of their salary or bonus until later.
  • Perks and Benefits: CEOs receive non-cash benefits as part of their compensation package. These include company cars, health insurance, housing allowances, club memberships, and personal assistant services.
  • Severance and Change of Control Arrangements: These provisions outline what happens if the CEO’s employment is terminated, particularly in the case of mergers, acquisitions, or other significant changes in company ownership. Severance packages may include cash payments, continued benefits, and accelerated vesting of equity.

Criteria for CEO Compensation Packages

CEO compensation packages are often structured to balance short-term performance and long-term value creation while aligning the CEO’s interests with those of shareholders and stakeholders. These components are subject to careful consideration by compensation committees and boards of directors to ensure they support the company’s strategic objectives and responsible governance. Generally, the following criteria and clauses are included in the employment contract of the CEO to become eligible for huge packages:

  • Performance Metrics: Specific measures used to determine the CEO’s eligibility for bonuses, equity grants and other performance-related components. These metrics vary widely based on industry, company size and strategic priorities.
  • ESG and Sustainability Metrics: An increasing trend is the inclusion of environmental, social and governance (ESG) or sustainability metrics in compensation packages, tying CEO pay to the company’s responsible and ethical performance.
  • Clawback Provisions: Clauses allow the company to recover or “claw back” previously paid compensation under certain conditions, such as financial restatements due to misconduct.

Compensation Trends in Different Industries

Comparing CEO compensation across industries provides valuable insights into how executive pay varies based on company size, financial performance, industry demands, and market dynamics. Here’s a simplified analysis of CEO compensation across three significant industries: technology, finance and healthcare, which are famous for high rewards.

  • Equity Grants: Technology and pharmaceutical companies tend to offer higher compensation percentages through equity grants, reflecting the potential for stock price appreciation in these sectors. Finance companies also include equity, but it’s relatively lower, possibly due to regulatory considerations.
  • Performance Bonus: The bonus component is consistent across industries, reflecting its role in rewarding short-term achievements. The percentage is higher in technology, possibly due to the sector’s rapid growth and innovation.
  • Overall Compensation: Pharmaceutical and technology CEOs have higher overall compensation than healthcare and finance CEOs. The technology sector’s growth potential and pharmaceutical companies’ R&D investments contribute to this difference.
  • Risk and Regulation: Finance companies often face regulatory constraints impacting compensation structures, reflected in the finance industry’s lower equity and bonus percentages.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

It’s important to remember that CEO compensation can vary significantly within each industry based on company size, performance and other factors. Comparative analysis like this provides a snapshot of trends but needs to capture the full complexity of executive pay. To conduct comprehensive research, real-world data should be sourced from reliable industry reports, company filings, and compensation studies.

Factors Driving High CEO Salaries

The substantial salaries of CEOs have become a subject of intense debate and scrutiny. Understanding the factors contributing to these high pay packages is essential for comprehending the dynamics of executive compensation and corporate governance dynamics.

A complex relationship of market forces, talent scarcity, performance-driven compensation structures and governance mechanisms shape the high salaries of CEOs. Recognising these factors is crucial for fostering informed discussions about responsible executive compensation, aligning CEO incentives with shareholder interests, and ensuring CEO pay is fair and accountable.

It’s worth noting that while these factors contribute to high CEO salaries, there are ongoing discussions about aligning executive pay with shareholder and stakeholder interests, addressing income inequality and promoting responsible corporate governance.

The following list provides the factors driving high CEO salaries:

  • Market Demand for Top Talent: CEOs are responsible for leading and driving the strategic direction of companies. The demand for exceptional leadership and experience in a competitive global business landscape often drives top executive talent prices.
  • Scarcity of Qualified Executives: The pool of experienced and qualified individuals capable of effectively leading large organisations is limited. This scarcity increases the bargaining power of CEOs and allows them to negotiate higher compensation packages.
  • Performance-Linked Incentives: High salaries often accompany performance-linked incentives such as bonuses, stock options, and equity grants. These components align CEO compensation with company performance, motivating CEOs to make decisions that benefit shareholders.
  • Financial Success and Value Creation: CEOs who successfully lead companies to strong financial performance, revenue growth, and increased shareholder value often command higher pay for their contribution to the company’s success.
  • Leading through Complexity: The complexity and size of modern corporations require CEOs to manage diverse functions, navigate complex regulatory landscapes, and make critical decisions; this level of responsibility justifies higher compensation. CEOs leading multinational corporations with global operations and various business units often have complex responsibilities, necessitating higher salaries to attract and retain such leaders.
  • Industry Competition. Industries with fierce competition for top talent, such as technology and finance, often offer higher compensation to attract CEOs who can provide a competitive edge. Shareholders increasingly expect CEOs to deliver strong financial results and shareholder returns. Companies might offer higher payment to secure CEOs with proven track records.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

  • Executive Pay Benchmarking: Compensation committees and boards often benchmark CEO pay against peers and competitors to ensure they remain competitive. This benchmarking process can lead to an upward spiral of executive pay. Prevailing corporate governance practices and market norms can influence executive compensation decisions. Sometimes, these norms lead to higher pay levels to remain competitive.
  • Market Perception and Reputation: A CEO’s reputation and market perception can impact a company’s success. Attracting or retaining a reputable CEO can contribute to a positive image, which might justify higher compensation. Large institutional investors may influence CEO compensation through engagement and voting on executive pay proposals, which can drive companies to offer more competitive compensation packages.

CEOs Pay in Startups

CEO compensation in a startup can vary widely based on several factors, including the startup stage, industry, funding, location, and the CEO’s experience. Startups often need to balance attracting top talent and managing limited resources.

According to research by  Kruze Consulting (, a startup CEO’s average salary in the USA was $142,000 in 2023, down from $150,000 in 2022. The salary survey website Glassdoor reports that the average base pay of a startup’s Co-founder and CEO in the UK was £127,287 in 2023.

Various factors contribute to the pay fixation of CEOs in startups, such as:

  • Industry and Location: The industry and nature of the startup’s business can impact CEO compensation. Tech startups may offer higher equity stakes due to the potential for rapid growth and high valuations. Additionally, the location of the business also matters – CEOs in cities with higher living costs might receive higher salaries to attract and retain top talent.
  • Stage of Startup. In the early stages, when a startup is just getting off the ground and has limited funding, the CEO might not receive a substantial salary. Instead, they might take a lower base salary in exchange for equity in the company. Equity can be in the form of stock options or equity grants, aligning the CEO’s interests with the startup’s success. In some cases, where the CEOs are also the co-founders, they often set their pay and might even work for a nominal or no salary, driven by their passion for the business.
  • Growth of Startups: The CEO’s compensation might evolve as the startup secures funding and grows. The CEO could receive a competitive base salary and performance-based bonuses tied to critical milestones or growth targets. Equity compensation remains significant as the CEO’s contribution to the company’s success becomes more critical.
  • Startup Funding and Scale-Ups: In startups that have secured substantial funding and are scaling rapidly, CEO compensation might approach that of more established companies, including a competitive base salary, performance-based bonuses, and a significant equity stake. CEOs in this stage are responsible for managing larger teams, navigating complex growth strategies, and attracting further investment.
  • Experience and Track Record of the CEO. The CEO’s experience and track record also play a role in the fixation of the salaries. Seasoned CEOs with a successful history of building and scaling startups might command higher salaries and equity packages due to their proven abilities. It’s important to note that startups often emphasise equity ownership, as the potential for a significant financial reward upon exit (such as through an IPO or acquisition) can outweigh the immediate cash compensation. Ultimately, CEO compensation in a startup is a complex negotiation considering the startup’s financial situation, growth stage, competitive landscape, and expertise.

Gender Gap in CEO Pay

The gender gap in CEO pay refers to the disparity in compensation between male and female CEOs. This gap is a reflection of broader gender inequalities that exist in the workforce and society at large. Oracle’s Safra Catz is the only woman among the top 10 highest-paid CEOs, according to a report by CNBC ( In the United Kingdom, the median pay for female CEOs was £3.91 million, comparable to the median income of male FTSE 100 CEOs at £3.96 million – source: High Pay Centre (

The pay gap is primarily due to less representation and bias; women are underrepresented in top leadership roles, including CEO positions. This lack of representation can result from implicit biases, gender stereotypes, and systemic barriers that hinder women’s career advancement. According to a report by WB Collaborative (, there are 44 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies as of July 2022, which makes up 8.8%, while there are 37 women CEOs (7.4%) in the Fortune 1,000 (501-1000).

Photo by Meghan Lamle on Unsplash

A report by  CEOWORLD magazine suggests that as of August 2023, there are currently nine female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100, the group of the largest businesses traded on the London Stock Exchange by market cap, meaning just 9 per cent of these companies have female CEOs. Although the number has improved from 6 women CEOs in 2019, progress could still be much faster.

Some key factors contributing to the gender gap in CEO pay are listed below:

  • Glass Ceiling Effect: The “glass ceiling” is an invisible barrier that prevents qualified women from rising to the highest levels of leadership. This phenomenon can limit women’s opportunities to become CEOs and influence the pay gap.
  • Negotiation Disparities: Research suggests that women are less likely to negotiate aggressively for higher salaries and promotions than men, which can impact their compensation trajectories and limit their earning potential.
  • Industry and Occupational Segregation: Women are often concentrated in sectors and roles that historically have lower pay, which can limit their access to CEO positions in higher-paying sectors.
  • Caregiving Responsibilities: Women often shoulder a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities, leading to career interruptions and reduced availability for demanding CEO roles, impacting their eligibility and consideration for such positions. Companies supporting paternity leave and flexible scheduling will persuade male employees to contribute to childcare, freeing women to take on more demanding tasks and releasing them from traditional childcare responsibilities.    
  • Lack of Sponsorship and Mentorship: A lack of mentorship and sponsorship opportunities for women can limit their access to networks and relationships crucial for career advancement into CEO roles.
  • Perceived Risk Aversion: Women might be seen as more risk-averse than men, potentially impacting their perceived suitability for CEO roles requiring bold and strategic decisions.
  • Lack of Transparency and Disclosure: The lack of transparency in executive pay and a lack of diversity data can perpetuate disparities in CEO pay by allowing gender bias to go unchecked.
  • Gender Stereotypes and Perceptions of Leadership: Gender stereotypes can influence perceptions of effective leadership, potentially disadvantaging women in leadership evaluations and pay decisions.

Addressing the gender gap in CEO pay requires a comprehensive approach that tackles systemic biases, promotes diversity in leadership pipelines, enhances mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, challenges gender stereotypes, and fosters inclusive organisational cultures.

Initiatives that promote pay transparency, offer family-friendly policies, and provide leadership development opportunities for women can contribute to reducing the gender gap in CEO pay and advancing gender equality in the corporate world.

Unsplash+In collaboration with Getty Images

The CEO-Worker Pay Ratio

The widening gap between CEO and worker pay has become a significant point of contention in discussions about income inequality, corporate governance and societal fairness. The growing gap between CEO and average worker pay is an intricate issue with far-reaching implications for society, economics and organisational dynamics.

According to a report published by Reuters in August 2023, S&P 500 chief executives earned $16.7 million on average in 2022, 272 times the pay of their median workers. A report by the Economic Policy Institute ( suggests that the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio reached 399-to-1 in 2021, a new high.

According to a report by High Pay Centre (, the median FTSE 100 CEO pay of £3.91 million is 118 times the median earnings of a UK full-time worker in 2022 (£33,000), while the highest paid FTSE 100 CEO received a total of £15.32 million, at AstraZeneca. These figures are 464 times the pay of the median UK full-time worker. The median FTSE 250 CEO was paid £1.77 million in 2022, 54 times the median UK worker.

Understanding the factors driving this disparity and its impact on income inequality and workplace dynamics is essential for shaping responsible compensation practices and fostering equitable economic growth.

Factors Driving the Gap

  • Economic, societal, and corporate factors influence the growing CEO and worker compensation gap. The factors contributing to this ever-increasing gap present statistical data on the evolution of the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in various countries and discuss the implications of this disparity for income inequality and organisational dynamics. This disparity has raised concerns about income inequality and social justice. The following are some key factors driving the gap between CEO and worker compensation:
  • The scarcity of qualified CEOs and the high demand for executive talent can increase compensation. The limited supply of experienced CEOs can result in higher pay packages, while the larger pool of workers in specific industries can suppress wages.
  • CEOs often manage multinational operations, navigate complex international markets, and lead organisations through technological transformations. Their responsibilities in a globalised and tech-driven economy can lead to higher compensation.
  • CEO compensation often links to company performance and shareholder returns through bonuses, stock options, and equity grants. Successful CEOs who achieve significant growth can earn substantial rewards.
  • CEOs are responsible for strategic decision-making, managing large teams, overseeing financial performance, and navigating regulatory environments. Therefore, the complexity of their roles justifies higher pay.
  • CEOs often negotiate their compensation packages or have the leverage to demand higher pay due to their integral role in the company’s success.
  • A highly reputable CEO can enhance a company’s brand and attract investment, potentially justifying a higher pay package based on their market value.
  • Compensation committees and boards set executive pay levels. 
  • Benchmarking CEO pay against industry peers and competitors can lead to competition surpassing the ceiling of executive compensation as companies strive to match or exceed market norms.
  • Flaws in corporate governance practices, including a lack of transparency and accountability, can enable excessive CEO salaries without adequate checks and balances.
  • In some cases, shareholders’ ability to vote on executive compensation (say-on-pay) may not have a binding impact, allowing compensation practices to persist despite shareholder concerns.
  • Societal norms and acceptance of wealth accumulation can contribute to the gap. In some cultures, high CEO pay symbolises success and aspiration.
  • Declines in union membership and collective bargaining power for workers can contribute to stagnant wage growth, allowing executive compensation to outpace worker pay.

Addressing the CEO-worker compensation gap requires a wide-ranging approach involving corporate governance reforms, regulatory changes, shareholder activism, and improving worker rights and bargaining power. Striking a balance between rewarding executive talent and addressing income inequality remains a significant challenge for businesses and society.

Photo by Semina Psichogiopoulou on Unsplash

Future Trends of CEO Salaries

Predicting future CEO compensation trends involves considering economic shifts, societal changes, corporate governance developments, and evolving business landscapes. A complex relationship of regulatory changes, shareholder activism, ethical considerations, and growing expectations of responsible corporate governance will influence the future of CEO compensation.

  • A greater focus could be linking CEO compensation to sustainable, long-term value creation rather than short-term financial metrics. Companies might use performance metrics related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to incentivise responsible decision-making.
  • As ESG considerations become more integral to corporate strategies, CEO compensation might increasingly incorporate ESG-related performance metrics, aligning executive pay with broader stakeholder interests. The traditional financial performance metrics might evolve to include non-financial indicators such as employee well-being, diversity and inclusion, innovation, and ethical conduct. CEOs could receive compensation for their holistic contributions to the company.
  • In future, companies might decrease reliance on annual cash bonuses and increase equity-based compensation to align CEO interests with long-term shareholder value. CEOs might face more accountability for company failures, with compensation tied to a broader spectrum of outcomes, including ethical behaviour, customer satisfaction, and long-term reputation. Increased stakeholder engagement could influence compensation decisions, including employee feedback and consumer sentiment, thus rewarding CEOs who promote healthy organisational cultures.
  • With increasing attention to income inequality, regulations might require greater transparency in CEO-worker pay ratios. Companies could face more pressure to justify high pay disparities. Efforts to close the gender pay gap could lead to more scrutiny of gender disparities in executive pay.
  • It’s possible to anticipate greater openness and corrective action. Shareholders might demand more influence over CEO compensation through more robust say-on-pay mechanisms, potentially leading to greater alignment between CEO pay and company performance. Governments might enact stricter regulations on executive pay, such as setting caps on CEO-to-worker pay ratios, implementing higher taxes on excessive compensation, or mandating clawback provisions.
  • Data analytics and technology advancements could enable more personalised and performance-based compensation structures tailored to individual CEOs’ contributions. Creative compensation plans that reflect these objectives reward CEOs prioritising sustainability, social impact, and community involvement.


Throughout this article, we’ve embarked on a comprehensive journey through the intricate world of CEO compensation. We’ve explored the historical evolution, global perspectives, trends, ethical considerations, and proposed reforms shaping this critical aspect of modern corporate governance. From the growing gap between CEO and worker pay to gender disparity, from the influence of stakeholders to regulators’ concerns, we’ve gained insights into the multifaceted dimensions of CEO salary and pay.

To learn more about a career in senior management, please visit our resources page or search for senior management roles here.

Job Seekers

On the hunt for your next role? Upload your CV below and we’ll be in touch to discuss your requirements.


For employers seeking the right skills and cultural fit for your business, send us your vacancy to find out more about how we can help.

Submit CV Send Us Your Vacancy

Search Jobs