It was a split decision. The sample of 200 large companies divided into two roughly equal-sized groups, the Times reports.
The first group, which appears to believe in paying for performance, cut the pay of the top executive for the first time in years. These companies include Boeing, Eli Lilly, and nearly every large brokerage firm.
But the other group, which seems to believe simply in paying a lot, reacted to a year of recession and war often by creating the impression they had reduced pay - without actually doing so.
Kenneth I. Chenault at American Express, Douglas N. Daft at Coca-Cola, John T. Chambers at Cisco Systems, and top executives at many other companies received big raises or bonuses even though they had missed the goals they had set for themselves at the start of the year.
Chambers, with a pay package of $154 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, finished at the top of the pay survey, conducted the Times by Pearl Meyer & Partners, a consulting firm in New York. For the calendar year, Richard D. Fairbank of the Capital One Financial Corporation, made the most - $99.7 million.
Over all, the Times reports, the average compensation for chief executives declined 8 percent. It was the first decline in nine years.
But as the largest awards became smaller, pay for the typical chief executive continued to climb. The median compensation rose 7 percent - about twice the raise that the average American worker received - to $9.1 million, at the 200 companies. Profits fell 35 percent at the typical company.
"This was a year of separation," observed Patrick S. McGurn, the director of corporate programs at Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises large investors. "We separated the pay-for-performance folks from the pay-for-failure folks."
The median base salary jumped 4 percent in 2001. Many boards also made up for declining bonuses, which are often directly linked to results, by awarding more valuable packages of stock options and more shares of stock. In some cases, directors called the awards "retention grants," meant to keep executives in place for the next few years.
Pay experts said external events played a role in determining last year's compensation packages, as executives had reason to avoid appearing greedy. "Political pressure had a huge impact on bonus decisions and salary decisions," said Jannice L. Koors, a vice president at Pearl Meyer.
New York Times took a look at executive compensation in 2001, with this question in mind: Did those who had tied their pay to the bottom line end up with leaner paychecks, in a year when profits suffered their worst annual decline in decades?