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CEO Pay Did Not Increase in 2019—What Will be the Effects of COVID-19?

REDWOOD CITY, CA (July 9, 2020)—In 2019, CEO pay did not increase for the first time during the last five years, according to the 2020 edition of the Equilar report CEO Pay Trends, which features independent commentary from Meridian Compensation Partners.

While median CEO pay did not increase in 2019, across the Equilar 500—the 500 largest U.S. public companies by revenue—median CEO pay increased by nearly 22% since 2015. In 2019, median pay for Equilar 500 chief executives remained consistent at $12.3 million. While CEO compensation decreased in the majority of sectors, pay increased from 2018 to 2019 across the consumer defensive, healthcare, industrial and utilities sectors. Healthcare saw the largest increase at 11.3%.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity to the executive compensation landscape. According the report, 91 Equilar 500 companies have reduced CEO salaries in response to COVID-19. Companies across corporate America will seek to adapt their CEO pay plan design, particularly long-term incentive plans, as they navigate through the pandemic in the coming months.

“If the current economic uncertainty and volatility remains at the beginning of 2021, companies may not feel that they can realistically set multi-year financial goals,” said Dan Kaufman, Lead Consultant at Meridian Compensation Partners. “As a result, we may see a reduction in the percentage of performance shares granted to CEOs in order to balance the risk of uncertainty within the program.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Companies with low levels of Say on Pay support have higher median CEO Pay Ratios than those with higher levels of Say on Pay support

  • Performance awards continued their year-over- year increase in prevalence with a 3.2% increase in 2019 from 2018

  • 95 Equilar 500 companies took some form of action to CEO salaries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Request a copy of the full report by filling out the form or by contacting Equilar directly.

For further discussion and details on this topic, please join Equilar, Meridian Compensation Partners and BNY Mellon for a web presentaion on July 21. Registration is now open—visit to learn more about this and other events.

About the Report

CEO Pay Trends, an Equilar publication, analyzes the compensation data of chief executive officers at Equilar 500 companies over the last five fiscal years. Fiscal year one is defined by companies that filed their most recent proxy statement (DEF 14A or DEFC 14A) or compensation information in a 10-K amendment (10-K/A) between May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020. Additionally, CEOs that did not serve in the position for a full fiscal year were excluded from the analysis.

About Equilar

Equilar is the leading provider of Board Intelligence Solutions. Its data-driven platforms, BoardEdge and Insight, provide tools for board recruiting, business development, executive compensation and shareholder engagement. Companies of all sizes, including 70% of the Fortune 500 and institutional investors representing over $20 trillion in assets, rely on Equilar for their most important boardroom decisions. Equilar also hosts industry-leading board education symposiums, conducts comprehensive custom research services and publishes award-winning thought leadership. Founded in 2000, Equilar is cited regularly by Associated Press, Bloomberg, CNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other leading media outlets. Visit to learn more.

About Meridian Compensation Partners

Meridian Compensation Partners, LLC provides executive compensation consulting and corporate governance services to over 700 public and private corporations. With 10 offices and 80 associates in the U.S. and Canada, our services include board level advisory services, compensation program design, and market intelligence on executive pay and governance matters.

For more information, contact:

Amit Batish
Manager, Content & Communications
Equilar, Inc.

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