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March 23, 2001
Sinking Markets Putting Brakes on CEO Pay?
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reliminary analysis reveals tumbling markets and a slowing economy actually seem to be putting the brakes on executive compensation packages.

According to BusinessWeek's examination of 130 big-company proxies so far available, the 10-year run-up in pay doled out to the nation's chief executives came to an abrupt halt in 2000. Salaries were still up by more than 10 percent, but total compensation for the top 15 companies tracked by BusinessWeek actually slipped 4.7 percent.

The reason: the tech crash beginning in April 2000, made it flat-out impossible, or just fiscally unwise, for many execs to cash in their options, according to the BusinessWeek analysis.

If that trend holds with other companies, it will be the second consecutive year that pay growth rates slowed for the nation's chief executives, the analysis reported. In 1999, CEO compensation rose 17 percent, compared to 1998's 36 percent pay hike. And if total pay actually declines, it will be the first time since 1994 that has happened.

There were exceptions in the slowdown of stock-option exercises. Some chief execs at tech companies with off-cycle fiscal years could, and did, cash in small mountains of options in 2000's first quarter, before the first rumblings of the looming tech debacle were felt. The "King of CEO Options" was John T. Chambers of Cisco Systems, who pocketed nearly $156 million through options exercises for total compensation of $157.3 million.

Chambers was followed by Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International, with more than $121 million in options and $125 million in total comp, and John F. Welch Jr., General Electric's legendary chief exec, who earned nearly $106 million in options and $122.5 million overall. (The highest-paid executive of all wasn't a CEO. That title goes to former Oracle President and COO Ray Lane, who took home a cool $233 million-plus in 2000, more than $230 million of it from options).

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