Equilar | Associated Press CEO Pay Study

S&P 500 CEOs Saw Record-High Compensation in 2021

May 26, 2022

Amit Batish


As we close the second year of the post-pandemic fiscal landscape, companies are continuing to shed additional light on the importance of executive compensation. While the global stage becomes more complex and volatile, companies must remain agile to protect the organization's interests and the interests of its leadership as much as possible.

Since 2011, Equilar has worked together with the Associated Press on annual CEO pay studies. The most recent edition identified trends in compensation awards for CEOs who served in that role at an S&P 500 company for at least two years as of fiscal year end 2021. Companies must have filed a proxy between January 1 and April 30, 2022 to be included in this study.

Below are findings from our latest study. We continue to research in tandem with the Associated Press to identify new trends and data around CEO pay packages by state at some of the nation’s largest corporations. More information around this will be made available in the following weeks.

Key Findings

CEO Pay Reaches Record High

Despite the pandemic and economic volatility, corporations have been continuing to advance CEO pay packages. The median pay for S&P 500 CEOs was $14.5 million* in 2021—a 17.1% increase from the previous year. The large uptick marks the second consecutive year with a record high, with last year’s study featuring median compensation at $12.7 million.

The highest-paid CEO from this year’s study is Peter M. Kern, CEO at Expedia Group, who was awarded $296.3 million in 2021. Kern was one of two CEOs to be awarded over $200 million in 2021, with the only other chief executive being Warner Bros. Discovery’s David M. Zaslav ($246.6 million). Below is the complete list of the top 10 highest-paid executives that qualified for inclusion.

Expedia Group Peter M. Kern* $296,247,749
Warner Bros. Discovery David M. Zaslav $246,573,481
ServiceNow William R. McDermott $165,802,037
Apple Timothy D. Cook $98,734,394
JPMorgan Chase James Dimon $84,402,659
Penn National Gaming Jay A. Snowden $65,887,214
Broadcom Hock E. Tan $60,703,627
FLEETCOR Technologies Ronald F. Clarke $57,923,473
Charter Communications Thomas M. Rutledge $41,800,961
Netflix Reed Hastings $40,823,725

Employees Wages Increase Minimally Compared to CEO Pay

Companies are required to report compensation for their median employees alongside CEO pay each year, expressed as a ratio showing the difference between the two figures. The median employee pay disclosed by S&P 500 companies in the study was $76,142 in 2021, up 4.8% from $72,670 in fiscal year 2020. However, with CEO pay increasing substantially, the median CEO Pay Ratio rose from 166:1 to 186:1. As the CEO Pay Ratio continues to attract attention from key stakeholders—including lawmakers—it’s certainly a topic to keep a close eye on.

Women Lag in Representation, but Experience Higher Compensation Levels

Among the 340 executives in this year’s list, just 18 are women—two more than last year. At the median, women CEOs were awarded $15.8 million in 2021, a 26.4% increase from the previous year. In comparison, the 322 male executives in the study were awarded $14.4 million at the median, representing a 17.7% increase. The full list of women who held the chief executive post at S&P 500 companies in 2020 and 2021—and their reported compensation for the most recent year—is below.

Advanced Micro Devices Lisa T. Su $29,498,107
General Motors Mary T. Barra $29,136,780
General Dynamics Phebe N. Novakovic $23,553,862
Nasdaq Adena T. Friedman $19,965,893
Northrop Grumman Kathy J. Warden $19,505,303
Anthem Gail K. Boudreaux $19,348,241
Duke Energy Lynn J. Good $16,174,125
Arista Networks Jayshree Ullal $15,993,632
Ross Stores Barbara Rentler $15,989,635
Best Buy Corie Barry $15,631,157
Progressive Susan Patricia Griffith $14,462,961
Ventas Debra A. Cafaro $14,263,728
Zoetis Kristin C. Peck $13,098,491
Hershey Michele G. Buck $12,862,710
Celanese Lori J. Ryerkerk $12,570,992
Occidental Petroleum Vicki Hollub $11,068,539
CDW Christine A. Leahy $8,943,903
Regency Centers Lisa Palmer $7,026,315

Communication Services Continues to Lead in Pay

For the third consecutive year, the communication services industry led the way with the highest median CEO compensation at $20.3 million in 2021. The technology industry saw the second-highest compensation levels, with CEO pay reaching $16.6 million at the median. Energy followed closely at roughly $16 million. S&P 500 CEOs within the real estate industry were once again awarded the lowest total median pay across all industries at $10.5 million. View the full industry comparison below.

Communication Services 13 $20,342,871
Technology 43 $16,598,719
Energy 16 $15,997,812
Consumer Cyclical 39 $15,681,891
Healthcare 44 $15,669,387
Consumer Defensive 17 $15,435,182
Financial Services 58 $15,185,801
Industrials 50 $12,959,668
Utilities 17 $12,867,444
Basic Materials 39 $12,434,002
Real Estate 29 $10,488,138

CEOs in the Big Apple Enjoy the Largest Pay Days

Among states with at least five CEOs, New York-based CEOs received the highest median pay package. There are 34 New York-based CEOs in this year’s study—median total compensation for these chief executives reached $17.8 million. Tennessee, which is home to five CEOs, was second on the list. Tennessee-based CEOs received median total compensation of $16.6 million.

By far, California is home to the most CEOs in the study at 51, followed by New York at 44. Texas (32), Illinois (24) and Massachusetts (16) round out the top five states with the most CEOs. In total, 34 states were represented in the study.

*Total compensation includes information disclosed in company proxy statements including salary, bonus, stock and options valued at grant date, any deferred compensation, and other compensation (including benefits and perks).

*In December 2019, Mr. Kern, Vice Chairman and Director of Expedia at the time, along with Barry Diller, Chairman of the Board, began to oversee the Company’s executive leadership team, managing day-to-day operations. Mr. Kern officially received the CEO title in April 2020.


Amit Batish

Director of Content at Equilar

Amit Batish, Director of Content & Communications at Equilar, authored this post. Nathan Grantz, Research Specialist, conducted the data and analysis for this study. Please contact Amit Batish at abatish@equilar.com for more information or commentary on Equilar research and data analysis.


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