BY BRANDON SAWYER
CEO pay has often been the target of public outrage, but especially in the past five years amid layoffs, high unemployment and weak stock prices. CEO pay also has long been the target of board of directors’ executive compensation committees that fine-tune these pay programs in order to retain competent leaders. The compensation of public-company CEOs has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, shaped by government policy and boards with more independent directors, as well as efforts to connect it with shareholder return. Public companies must disclose more about executive pay than ever before, and while total CEO compensation has reached new heights, its value has become increasingly volatile and dominated by at-risk pay.
To see how executive pay has played out in Oregon, we analyzed the 20 public companies with the biggest market caps as of July 2012 that also had the same CEO for the past five years. (Lithia and Cascade Bancorp changed CEOs this year.)
Of our 20 CEOs, 17 earned more last year than they did before the recession, but eight of the companies they led were less profitable, including Cascade Bancorp, Columbia Sportswear, ESI, Greenbrier, NW Natural, Pacific Continental Bank, Schnitzer Steel and StanCorp. Only three CEOs — Raymond Davis of Umpqua Bank, Robert Warren Jr. of Cascade Corp. and Robert Sznewajs of West Coast Bancorp — earned less than five years ago.
The design of CEO compensation increasingly aims at long-term company performance and shareholder return with a greater proportion of equity and deferred compensation, the ultimate value of which is impossible to predict. Examining their pay as a whole has become less meaningful than an inventory of the components, such as salary.
Three companies that would have made our list of the top 20 because of market-cap size — Blount International, Lattice Semiconductor and Rentrak — were excluded because their CEOs changed in the turbulence of the past five years. Aaron Boyd, director of research at Equilar, says CEO turnover nationally spiked in 2008 and 2009.
“There’s less job security,” Boyd says. “You’re much more likely to take the blame when things go wrong and to get ousted, and have a shorter leash than a rank-and-file person.”
For this story, we analyzed the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission’s Edgar system for Oregon CEO pay and company financials; Equilar for information on S&P 500 CEOs; MarketWatch BigCharts for historical stock prices; and the Conference Board for proxy-voting data. Here is what we found.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ MCQUADE