This year was no exception: the average CEO of an S&P 500 company brings home almost $13 million, as much money as 383 average households. The head of an average public company overall raked in a slightly less impressive $9.6 million. The Associated Press' list of the 10 highest-paid CEOs highlights where the big paychecks go -- and what America's companies are getting in return.
10. Alan Mulally, Ford Motor.
In 2011, Ford (F) paid Mullaly $29.5 million, a 11% raise over the previous year. Mullaly has long had an interesting, somewhat fraught, relationship with compensation. In 2008, as the auto industry was taking a nosedive, he drew fire when he and other auto execs traveled to Washington, D.C., on private jets seeking help for the industry. Shortly thereafter, Mullaly sold most of Ford's corporate jets and drove a hybrid car to Washington for his next meeting. That year, Mullaly agreed to accept a $1 annual salary if Ford received a government bailout. Instead, the automaker kept its head above water without federal aid, and Mullaly took home $13.6 million. The next year, he made $17.9 million.
9. John P. Daane, Altera.
Daane has been the CEO of Altera (ALTR) since 2000. One of the nation's largest producers of programmable logic devices, the company is a major player in semiconductors. Daane's 2011 salary was $29.6 million, a 278% increase over the prior year.
8. Clarence P. Cazalot Jr., Marathon Oil.
In 2011, Marathon (MRO) paid Cazalot $29.9 million, a 239% raise over the previous year. Unlike many top CEOs, Cazalot's training isn't in law or business, but rather in geology, and under his leadership, Marathon has vastly expanded its overseas investments. While Marathon has certainly had a good year, the majority of Cazalot's raise came from a change in the company's incentive program, and likely will not be repeated.
7. Robert A. Iger, Walt Disney.
In 2011, Iger was paid $31.4 million. A modest 12% increase over the previous year, Iger might be one of the few CEOs who was underpaid that year. A major force behind the studio's 2009 purchase of Marvel Entertainment, Iger's management decision that has given Disney (DIS) a major cash cow. With The Avengers breaking box office records and sequels to Thor, Iron Man 2, Captain America, The Avengers and The Hulk in the pipeline, it looks like Iger's purchase will continue paying for itself long into the future.
6. David M. Cote, Honeywell International.
Cote has been leading Honeywell (HON) for 10 years, but 2011 was a particularly good one. He was paid $35.7 million, a 135% raise over the previous year. Then again, Honeywell seems to have a lot of money to spend: Between 2008 and 2010, it spent over $18.3 million on lobbying, laid off 968 workers, made $4.9 billion in profits and increased compensation by 15% for its top five executives. During the same period, it not only paid no taxes, but actually received $34 million in tax rebates.
5. Philippe P. Dauman, Viacom.
On the surface, Dauman's $43.1 million 2011 salary seems to be a disappointment; after all, it's a 49% drop from the previous year. Then again, he received a 148.6% raise in 2010, the top CEO raise that year. And things might be a bit tight in the Dauman household: Earlier this month, he sold 286,447 shares of Viacom stock (VIA), almost a third of his personal holdings, for $13.8 million.
4.Sanjay K. Jha, Motorola Mobility.
Motorola Mobility CEO Jha was widely reviled by his employees. In fact, he has received a 50% approval rating from Motorola workers, who also give their workplace a failing grade of 2.6 out of 5. So why did the mobile phone exec receive a 2011 compensation package worth $47.2 million -- a 262 percent increase over his 2010 pay? Well, this huge windfall reflects Google's purchase of the company, a deal that gave Jha a golden parachute of three times his yearly salary, in addition to an eventual payout of $52.5 million for his stock options.
3. David M. Zaslav, Discovery Communications.
In 2011, Discovery Communications (DISCA) paid Zaslav $52.4 million to run its collection of networks. A 23% increase over his 2010 salary, this reflects, among other things, Zaslav's efforts to develop OWN, the Oprah network.
2. Leslie Moonves, CBS.
Depending on who's doing the accounting, Moonves' compensation package in 2011 totaled either $68.4 or $69.9 million. Either way, he got a salary boost of over 20% last year, making him the highest paid media CEO in the U.S. Several pundits have questioned his high salary and amazing bonuses, but CBS' stock (CBS) took a 42% boost last year, and it is currently the top-rated television network, a position that many credit to Moonves' stewardship.
1. David Simon, Simon Property Group.
In addition to being the highest paid CEO in the U.S., Simon also got the biggest raise. In 2011, he brought home $137.2 million, a 458% increase over his previous year's salary. Shares in Simon Property Group (SPG) -- America's largest mall operator -- went up by 22% last year, a promising trend in a business that has long been facing declining sales.
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Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.