Most of today’s chief executive officers (CEOs) have a different agenda than those of the past. In the past, the primary focus was top line growth. With the Baby Boomer generation at its peak, the economy thrived for decades. Spending was rampant and excess was in style.

Today’s economy is different. Baby Boomers are retiring in droves and spending less, Generation X is too small to matter and Millennials are cost conscious due to being weighed down by student debt, high rents and a lack of wage growth opportunities. This consumer environment has led to many corporations cutting costs as opposed to spending on organic growth. Many of these corporations will also spend on buybacks instead of growth. (For more, see: Money Habits of the Millennials.)

Today’s CEO knows that if costs are cut, often via layoffs, it will lead to improved margins and an improved bottom line. Since many investors are looking for earnings growth, this often leads to stock appreciation. When there’s stock appreciation, this leads to bigger bonuses for the CEO.

However, the above chain of events doesn’t always come to fruition. If there is no top line growth, or if cost cutting measures don’t make up for the reduced revenue growth, then investors will not be pleased. It’s a complicated puzzle that a CEO must figure out in order to keep the company growing without risking too much capital to do it, while also delivering for shareholders. This isn’t an easy juggling act, but when a CEO is being paid tens of millions of dollars per year or more then shareholders should be rewarded.

Some CEOs ignore the macroeconomic environment and relentlessly innovate. Amazon.com, Inc.'s (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos is a good example. Also, when companies allocate more capital to buybacks it can lead to artificial gains in the stock price. Those gains are often not sustainable, especially when interest rates increase and buybacks slow down. Then again, interest rates might not be normalized for many years to come. (For more, see: How We'll All Be Amazon.com Customers Eventually.)

Let’s take a look at the 10 highest paid CEOs and the performance for each related stock.

10 Highest Paid CEOs

The information below is based on Equilar’s 200 Highest-Paid CEO Rankings. Equilar has partnered with The New York Times for nine years as data providers of executive compensation.  Total compensation includes base salary, cash bonus, perks/other, stock awards and options awards. It is listed next to each CEO's name. (For more, see: A Guide to CEO Compensation.)

1. David M. Zaslav $156,077,912

Discovery Communications (DISCA)

1 Year Stock Performance: -24.27%

2. Michael T. Fries $111,914,319

Liberty Global (LBTY)

1 Year Stock Performance: -37.36%

3. Mario J. Gabelli $88,518,411

GAMCO Investors (GBL)

1 Year Stock Performance: -0.58%

4. Satya Nadella $84,308,755

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)

1 Year Stock Performance: 20.87%

5. Nicholas Woodman $77,427,175

GoPro Inc. (GPRO)

1 Year Stock Performance: -79.22%

6. Gregory B. Maffei $73,750,882

Liberty Media Corp. (LMCA)

1 Year Stock Performance: -16.04%

7. Lawrence J. Ellison $67,261,251

Oracle Corp. (ORCL)

1 Year Stock Performance: 3.63%

8. Steven M. Mollenkopf $60,740,592

Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM)

1 Year Stock Performance: -4.0%

9. David T. Hamamoto $60,334,396

NorthStar Realty Finance Corp. (NRF)

1 Year Stock Performance: -58.9%

10. Leslie Moonves $54,403,721

CBS Corp. (CBS)

1 Year Stock Performance: -1.75%

The Bottom Line

The highest-paid CEOs in the United States should be delivering for investors, but only two have done so over the past year. (For more, see: Executive Pay: How Much Do Shareholders Really Care?)

Dan Moskowitz does not have positions in any of the stocks mentioned above.  

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