Despite taking a pay cut, Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s Ray Irani was once again the highest-paid executive in the Los Angeles County area last year. But this time it wasn’t as chief executive.

Irani, who was often the L.A. area’s highest-paid chief executive, stepped back into a chairman role in May of last year. He agreed to take a smaller pay package, but still accepted $32.1 million in cash and stock that had been granted to him in 2008. That boosted his pay to $49.8 million, enough to land him on top of the Business Journal’s first-ever survey of highest-paid non-chief executives. (See List on page 22.)

Irani’s compensation was even higher than the $33.4 million earned by Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger, who topped the Business Journal’s list of highest-paid chief executives.

Also pulling in higher compensation than any area CEO was Irving Azoff, chairman of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., whose compensation was valued at $34.6 million last year. That was enough for No. 2 on the non-chief executive list.

The Business Journal analyzed the compensation of non-CEO executives at the 50 largest public companies in the area by market capitalization. It ranked the 25 highest-paid non-CEOs by total company compensation, which included salary, bonuses, stock and option grants, and any additional perks.

The non-CEOs tend to be chairmen or high-ranking officers, such as executive vice presidents or chief operating officers.

Cumulatively, the area’s 25 highest-paid non-CEO executives saw compensation last year valued at $251 million, nearly one-fifth less than the $308 million of the 25 highest-paid chief executives.

As might be expected, the list was dominated by just a handful of the larger companies. Occidental and Amgen Inc. each had four executives on the list. Mattel Inc. had three, while Disney, Activision Blizzard Inc. and DirecTV had two each.

Including its CEO, Occidental paid more than $100 million to its top five executives, reflecting the particularly handsome compensation doled out in the oil industry.

Fred Whittlesey, principal at Compensation Venture Group Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash., said a big motivator of the pay packages is high executive turnover, which prompted companies with the means to pay a premium for talent.

“You have tremendous turnover. There’s never been so much commotion in the executive suite,” he said. “So if there are a few big, high-paying companies on the list, that would be possible that just a few would dominate.”

Indeed, the fourth-ranking non-CEO executive on the list, Amgen Executive Vice President Anthony Hooper, was hired in October away from Bristol-Myers Squibb, a New York pharmaceutical company. His compensation last year was $12.1 million, including $8.4 million in stock awards and a $3.2 million bonus offered in order to recruit him.

Though there’s increased pressure on companies to correlate pay to performance, that didn’t affect some of the top non-CEO earners. Those holding chairman positions, especially, seemed more insulated from such pressures than other non-CEO executives. They are often company founders who take in extra compensation through deals or other perks.

Consider the compensation of Live Nation’s Azoff, which was up 52 percent despite the company’s unprofitability and its shares dropping 27 percent in 2011. That’s because most of his compensation, $25 million, was related to the February 2011 sale of his interest in Front Line, a music management company he founded, to Live Nation. About $13 million of that was a tax gross-up in the form of cash and stock awards – in other words, Live Nation essentially paid his taxes on the deal.

Also notable was Guess Inc. chairman Maurice Marciano, third on the list. His compensation was up 28 percent, to $13.8 million, despite a more than 30 percent drop in share value and lower profits at his company last year. The increase in his compensation was related to his retirement in January from his position as executive chairman, though he remains chairman. Because of retirement provisions, he received a $1.4 million bonus even though other executives did not. His stock awards were also adjusted upward for the fiscal year.

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