Stories abound of money-hemorrhaging Internet startups run by fresh-faced wunderkinds who, even in the tech downturn, have made a killing in salary and options.

While such high-fliers may grab the limelight, in their shadows are the grizzled L.A. business veterans who lead highly profitable Old Economy companies, and earn relatively modest pay.

For the second time in three years, John J. Bryson, chief executive of Edison International, was the most cost-efficient of the highest-paid L.A. executives in 1999. Bryson's total package came to $3.3 million last year, a nice sum indeed, but only 0.6 percent of the utility's 1999 net income of $589.3 million.

"(Bryson) has done a pretty good job," said Douglas A. Christopher, a utilities analyst at Crowell, Weedon & Co. in San Francisco. "Things have improved over the last couple of years. Of course, Edison is in a pretty predictable business. Unless you go out on a limb and propose earth-shattering changes, you should do pretty well, and I think that's reflected in his salary."

Old Economy money

Almost by definition, the most-cost efficient executives come from industries that aren't high-growth, but make so much money that they can well afford to pay attractive salaries. Thus the most cost-efficient executives (as defined by their salary as a percentage of the company's net income) come from industries such as aerospace, energy, banking and media.

Some bargain CEOs in those industries include Kent Kresa of Northrop Grumman Corp., whose 1999 pay was only 0.67 percent of his company's net income; Mike Bowlin of Atlantic Richfield Co. and Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp., at 0.98 percent and 1.58 percent, respectively; Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. at 1.3 percent; and Mark Willes of Times Mirror Co. at 1.96 percent.

The few bargain CEOs who work in the high-tech industry are employed by long-established L.A.-area companies. They include Gordon Binder of biotech giant Amgen Inc., whose 1999 compensation represented only 0.81 percent of net income, and Van Honeycutt of Computer Sciences Corp. at 1.90 percent.

Fortune 500 company CEOs are well compensated, of course, but the big money these days is going to those who run companies with phenomenal growth or growth potential, as reflected in the $153 million pulled in last year by Mark Goldston of NetZero Inc., which is still hemorrhaging red ink.

"There's a shortage of talent, especially entrepreneurial talent at the executive level," said James Hatch, executive vice president of Compensation Resource Group Inc., an L.A.-based executive compensation and benefits consulting firm. "You've got to figure in how complex and risky a business is vs. other businesses in paying executives. With some (companies), you can pretty much predict (earnings) from year to year. It's a nice cushy executive job, but there's not as much risk. Part of capitalism is that you reward risk-takers more than people who invest in a sure thing."

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