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.”
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.
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.
Several other Mouseketeers joined Iger high in the ranks of highest paid as Disney’s stock rose 13 percent in value in 2015. The company, with a market cap of $158 billion, placed the most executives on the list of highest paid.
Former Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs was awarded $20 million, including stock awards and options. (Stggs, who had been widely expected to succeed Iger when he retires in 2018, made a surprise announcement in April that he would retire and left his position the next month; he is to remain a consultant to the company through the end of the year.) Four other Disney executives received between $7 million and $15 million.
Other Hollywood brass bobbed both up and down.
Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer saw his pay package plummet 90 percent, making him fall from his perch as the top-ranked chief executive in 2014 to No. 34 last year. His 2015 compensation of $6.8 million included $1.5 million in salary, a $4 million bonus, $1 million in stock, and $220,000 in other compensation. His 2014 pay megapackage amounted to $66.3 million, largely from a new contract that put a load of stock options on the books, even though they would not all be disbursed at once.
On the upswing was Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. in Glendale, who nailed a 112 percent pay hike. His $13.5 million pay package included a $2.5 million salary with a $6 million bonus, $4.5 million in stock, and $527,000 in other compensation. It’s back on par with his pay in 2013, which had been a strong year before DreamWorks took a net loss of $308 million in 2014 on the heels of flops like “Penguins of Madagascar” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” The company is set to be acquired by Comcast Corp. in a $3.8 billion deal that will reportedly give Katzenberg $400 million.
But Katzenberg’s ascent was mild compared with the skyrocketing pay at a firm tied to the burgeoning e-commerce industry. At El Segundo’s Stamps.com, which provides online postage and shipping services, several executives enjoyed pay bumps of more than 300 percent after the company began to enjoy the profits of acquiring companies Endicia, ShipStation, and ShipWorks.
Leading the pack was Stamps.com’s chief legal officer, Seth Weisberg. His pay jumped 392 percent to hit $4.7 million, including a $320,000 salary with $490,000 bonus, $3.9 million in stock and $5,000 in other compensation. The company’s chief product and strategy officer, John Clem, saw pay leap 388 percent, and other Stamps.com executives had increases of more than 300 percent as well, with the company doling out bonuses tied to the acquisition of Endicia.
“We believe the compensation program for the named executive officers has been instrumental in helping us achieve our strong financial performance,” the company wrote in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
As in previous years, women made few appearances as top earners. Julia Stewart of DineEquity Inc. is the only female chief executive among 49 men to make the list. She came in at No. 39 with a pay package of $5.8 million. In other executive positions, Kennedy Wilson Europe President Mary Ricks scored $17 million, DreamWorks President Ann Daly notched $8 million, Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy reached $7 million, and Kite Pharma Inc. Executive Vice President Helen Kim took home $6.4 million.
“A lot of companies care about and try to get diversity, but it’s still a long road to getting here, and it gets harder at the top. You’re seeing that in the numbers,” said Ferracone, the consultant. “We’ve had a whole generation of women now who have business educations and careers and experience, and they’re still not proportionally represented at the top.”
Across the board, chief executives make roughly 300 times the amount an average worker, according to USC’s Murphy. That ratio has stayed relatively steady since 2000. But income inequality has been big on people’s minds recently during the presidential campaign. Some candidates have vowed to increase taxes for the wealthy, but a move like that could end up pushing pay still higher.
“It’s hard to see anything that they’re proposing that would affect these levels,” he said. “Regardless of who’s president, it’s still America. It’s going to be difficult to actually regulate how much someone can make.”
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