Patrick Soon-Shiong earned a salary of $1 as chief executive of biotech company NantKwest Inc. last year. But the wealthiest person in Los Angeles still topped the list of highest-paid public company executives in town – and likely the country – with total compensation of nearly $148 million.

That package was roughly three times the expected compensation for other top L.A. earners at public companies, including Walt Disney Co.’s Bob Iger. The bulk of the payout will come in stock options Soon-Shiong can cash in if NantKwest shares recover from their recent swoon.

Tying compensation to stock performance in that way generally keeps shareholders happy, said Kevin Murphy, a professor of finance and business economics at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

“Shareholders seem to care about the level of incentive rather than level of pay,” he said, emphasizing that executives can get paid in a variety of ways.

Soon-Shiong’s 2015 compensation package was an outlier in a year that saw CEO pay weaken across S&P 500 companies. While that kind of uniform drop is rare, compensation consultants said the data didn’t reveal startling trends or surprises.

“It was a relatively quiet year,” said Todd Sirras, managing director of Semler Brossy Consulting Group in Brentwood. “The markets in 2015 didn’t go too far one way or another.”

Robin Ferracone, chief executive of Farient Advisors in Pasadena, added that companies continue to aim at better shareholder communication while creating pay structures that emphasize incentive-driven compensation.

“We keep seeing companies raise their game in terms of trying to get performance right. It doesn’t mean CEOs aren’t getting paid, they are,” she said. “They have to perform to get their pay.”

Cashing up

Soon-Shiong’s compensation calls for a $386,000 cash bonus, $15 million in stock awards and $132 million in options. But shares have plunged about 70 percent since the cancer drug maker went public in July. After debuting at $25 a share, NantKwest closed at $7.48 on June 8, off 4.2 percent for the week, and landed among the biggest decliners on the LABJ Index.

The drop would reduce the value of Soon-Shiong’s options to just over $105 million.

“They hired him for a little bit of cash and a lot of upside potential,” said Murphy.

Sector swings

While biotech has traveled a rocky road, the movie business has rolled forward. Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive, was the second-highest-earning chief executive with a package worth nearly $45 million. That included a $2.5 million salary with $22.3 million in bonuses that came when the entertainment giant met financial performance targets. He is also set to receive $8.9 million in stock, $8.4 million in options, and $2.7 million in other compensation. The total sum reflects a 3 percent drop over last year’s pay of $46.5 million, which in turn was a 35 percent jump over the previous year.


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