The result was a continuation of the inexorable rise of CEO pay in America during a year that, for mere mortals, was one of massive job losses, furloughing and government support. According to MyLogiq, a data gatherer, the median pay of nearly 450 CEOs running firms in the S&P 500 that have reported so far was $13.2m last year, an increase for the fifth year running. It said Mr Nassetta and Mr Del Rio were among two dozen bosses in that group who got a pay rise even though their firms lost money.
So now comes the backlash from investors, right? So far this year, shareholders have used “say-on-pay” votes at annual general meetings to censure an unusually large number of America’s biggest firms for gerrymandering pay policies, including GE, AT&T, a telecoms giant, IBM, a tech firm, and Walgreens Boots Alliance, a pharmacy business. Pay consultants report that those CEOs yet to face combative shareholder meetings are “sweating it”. That is no bad thing if it suggests that institutions are so fed up with the stratospheric rewards on offer that they convince boards to put an end to them. But don’t bet on it. Shareholders remain in as much of a muddle over high pay as company directors.
To be fair, it’s a tricky issue. There is a widely held view in America that executive pay, like the stockmarket, always rises. That’s not strictly accurate. During the second world war pay fell, and for 30 years after barely budged. But since then, CEO pay inflation has been a fairly reliable assumption: the average level has risen about tenfold since the mid-1970s, vastly outpacing the income of average workers.