But certain established industries have to deal with plenty of uncertainty. The oil industry made a huge comeback in 1999 thanks to the rise in worldwide petroleum prices, and Arco's Bowlin and Occidental's Irani became more "efficient" simply because the price of a barrel of crude oil tripled. In fact, Bowlin was ranked as the least cost-effective of L.A.'s 100 top-paid public company executives for 1998, when his company lost $657 million. In 1999, Arco posted a $1.3 billion profit.

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Hatch said.

Some not on the list

Of course, it's also important to keep in mind that the Business Journal's list of L.A.'s most cost-efficient executives is drawn from the list of the county's highest-paid public company executives. There are likely a number of other local public company chiefs who are even better bargains, but who don't appear on the highest-paid list.

The most cost-efficient executive on last year's list was Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, whose $6 million in salary and bonuses in 1998 accounted for only 0.3 percent of Disney's profit that year.

In 1999 Eisner's compensation accounted for an infinitesimal percentage of Disney's $1.3 billion in net income, but that's because Eisner was paid only his base salary of $750,000, not enough to make the highest-paid executive list.

And it's important to note that several of this year's bargain executives won't be on next year's list. Amgen's Binder is retiring, and Arco's Bowlin and Times Mirror's Willes bailed out with golden parachutes in the wake of mergers, as BP Amoco took over the oil company and Chicago's Tribune Co. acquired Times Mirror.

The latter case certainly proves that cost-efficiency doesn't always translate into job security. Willes was severely criticized for the Staples Center affair, under which the L.A. Times shared revenue with the arena as part of a special magazine devoted to the new arena. While Willes apparently cried upon hearing the news that Times Mirror was being taken over, he may be somewhat consoled by his severance package, worth a reported $80 million.

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