Georgia's average CEO pay avoids major decline

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ATLANTA --- The average compensation for CEOs of top Georgia companies saw only a slight decline last year, while salaries for top corporate bosses were dropping significantly across the country, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution study of most recent proxy statements.

Some Georgia CEOs received dramatic increases, the study showed.

The study found more than half the CEOs at Georgia's 25 largest public companies saw their compensation fall in 2009. But median pay -- what the CEO in the middle of the earning range received -- actually inched up less than 1 percent, according to the newspaper's review of the proxy statements.

The average pay package of the Georgia CEOs surveyed inched down by the same percentage, to $7.2 million in 2009, the statements filed with the Securities Exchange Commission show.

Compensation ranged from $1.2 million for Synovus banking chief Richard Anthony to $18.8 million for Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, the paper reported.

Mirant's Edward R. Muller, whose pay package rose 8 percent to just more than $6.5 million in 2009, earned the median pay of the group.

Compensation expert Graef Crystal found that average CEO pay at the 271 major U.S. companies he studied dropped 4.7 percent in 2009, to $9.95 million.

Overall, U.S. chief executives' pay dropped for the second year in a row last year, according to The Corporate Library, an independent corporate governance firm in Portland, Maine. It found median pay fell about 7 percent to $1.4 million for the 800-plus companies reporting, a group including many smaller companies.

Pay for the average Georgia CEO was roughly 185 times that of the average U.S. worker's annual pay of about $39,100.

Larger companies often pay executives much more, Crystal said.

That correlation is not exact. Rock-Tenn, a Norcross paper packaging manufacturer, is the 18th largest public company in Georgia, but CEO James A. Rubright earned a total package larger than all but three of the state's 25 top executives. Moreover, his exit package of $45.8 million was the third largest in that group.

Rock-Tenn Vice President John Stakel cited the company's performance. Revenues during 2009 dipped, but earnings per share soared 169 percent, the best among Georgia public companies. Also, Rock-Tenn's stock price has roughly tripled over the past five years.


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