Answer: Discovery’s top executive, David M. Zaslav, was the best-paid CEO of a big U.S. company in 2018.
This past week the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of 2018 compensation for S&P 500 leaders, ranking the best-paid CEOs in America. As the report’s authors, Theo Francis and Lakshmi Ketineni, noted, “median pay reached $12.4 million for CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies in 2018, setting a fourth straight post-recession high even as stock-market returns tumbled at most of the companies. Most S&P 500 CEOs got raises of 5% or better during the year, while total shareholder return was -5.8%” Zooming out, a majority of the top earners worked in finance, media and healthcare, which is a change of pace from previous years where technology executives grabbed most of the top spots. In general, these reports spark concerns about the soaring disparity of CEO pay. As of 2018, it is 351 times that of the average worker. Abigail Disney, a great-niece of the Walt Disney Co. founder, recently criticized the company’s pay practices, saying she was appalled by how much money CEO Bob Iger made relative to median worker pay. With that said, others argue CEOs get paid what they’re worth because they assume all the financial risk of the company they are operating. Let’s take a look a few.
David M. Zaslav of Discovery took home a nice paycheck of $129.4 million last year. In 2017 he took home $42.2 million, representing a 3-fold increase year-over-year. According to the WSJ, “Discovery said Mr. Zaslav’s pay increase is nearly all performance-based and largely the result of a substantial increase in stock-option awards tied to a five-year contract extension through 2023, with exercise prices that escalate each year.” So what did Zaslav do in 2018 that helped his performance-based compensation? Well, in March 2018 he oversaw Discovery’s acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive, whose channel properties include the Food Network and HGTV. Then, in June 2018 Discovery said it formed a 12-year partnership with the PGA Tour according to Fox Business, which “includes global multiplatform live rights outside the United States to all PGA TOUR media properties totaling approximately 2,000 hours of content per year.” In the eyes of Discovery’s shareholders and board members, he did well as captain of the ship in 2018.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were some CEO’s who took home a whopping $1 in 2018, making them the “lowest paid S&P 500 chiefs” last year. These were Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet, and Jack Dorsey, the co-founder, and CEO of Twitter. Don’t let that number fool you, however. According to Motley Fool, Page has taken $1 every year since Google went public, but he owns 20 million Class B shares and 20 million Class C shares of Alphabet, making him the company’s largest shareholder. As a result, Forbes listed Page as having a net worth of $54.2 billion. Dorsey, who is also the CEO of Square, earned $80 million in 2018 after he sold 1.7 million shares of his shares in the mobile payments company, according to Forbes. The outlet also listed his net worth as $4.8 billion.