Pandemic Takes a Toll on Compensation Packages for LA’s Top CEOs


The global pandemic rippled through the compensation packages of C-suite executives in L.A.’s diverse business community in 2020.

Of the 50 highest paid chief executives in Los Angeles last year, 20 went home with lighter wallets than the year before, according to the Business Journal’s annual compensation list.

The impact was felt across a range of industries.

Executives at commercial real estate operators, for instance, were hurt by empty offices, deserted shopping malls and food courts and lost foot traffic at retail outlets.
Hollywood execs, meanwhile, suffered from a pause in production work and locked doors at movie theaters.

On the other hand, some C-suite types saw gains as a result of Covid-19.

Streaming services, gaming companies and ecommerce businesses all seemed to register positive results as consumers stayed home and turned to their screens to watch, play and shop.

Amit Batish, director of content with Equilar Inc., a Redwood City-based compensation data firm, said compensation in L.A. reflected broader trends.

Batish added that CEO pay at the nation’s 100 largest publicly traded companies fell less than 2% in 2020 — though the declines were mostly in base salaries rather than long-term packages filled with bonuses, stock options and other performance incentives.

“The incentive side of compensation largely stayed intact because they had to keep the CEOs in their posts,” Batish said.

Total compensation packages rose to $672.6 million in 2020, up from $562 million in 2019, according to the Business Journal.

Much of that gain was largely due to one CEO.

Activision Blizzard Inc.’s Robert Kotick, whose Santa Monica-based video game empire enjoyed a record year, saw his compensation package rise to $154.6 million, a 413% bump over his 2019 payout.

Another CEO who benefited from shifting consumer habits during the pandemic was Robert Greenberg at Skechers USA Inc. Housebound consumers opted for casual lifestyle clothes and performance footwear in the past year, and the Manhattan Beach-based company was able to answer the call.

Greenberg ranked No. 4 on the Business Journal’s list, with $20.3 million in total compensation, up 48% from $13.7 million the year before.

Taking stock

Kevin Murphy, an internationally known compensation expert with USC’s Marshall School of Business, said many CEOs fared better than expected over the past year despite the fact that many took salary cuts almost immediately after the stock market collapsed in March 2020.

“I thought there would be a resetting of (CEO) performance goals,” said Murphy, who noted that corporate boards typically establish annual goals for bonus plans and metric hurdles for performance plans in late February.

“As it turned out, large companies did very well,” he added. “Commercial real estate got hammered, and restaurants and hospitality industries got into trouble, but we found out that a lot of businesses were pretty resilient to the shutdown. When you cut base salaries, you make it up somewhere else. They issued more stock grants, which are performance-based,” he added.

The second-highest paid CEO in L.A. last year was Todd Stevens, head of Santa Clarita-based California Resources Corp. One of the state’s largest oil producers, the company slipped into bankruptcy last summer when it failed to reach a debt-restructuring agreement with creditors.

Stevens oversaw the company’s exit from bankruptcy in October and a few months later announced that he would leave California Resources at the end of 2020. He took a total compensation package of $21.5 million with him — more than double the $10.5 million he received the year before.

Stevens isn’t the only CEO on the Business Journal list who has departed his position.

Michael Burke left his post as chairman and chief executive at downtown-based AECOM in June 2020. He finished No. 7 on the list with total compensation of $17.4 million last year, a 10% bump from the $15.9 million he earned in 2019.

The exec who replaced Burke last June, longtime AECOM Chief Financial Officer Troy Rudd, landed at No. 24 on the list with $9.3 million in total compensation. That’s a 128% gain from 2019 when Rudd’s pay totaled $4.01 million.

Robert Iger, who abruptly stepped down as CEO of Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. in February 2020 and announced plans to leave his executive chairman role this year, came in No. 3 on the list.

His total compensation of just over $21 million marked a 56% decline from the $47.5 million he received the previous year. While the Disney Plus streaming service, which Iger guided, has been a success, the company lost billions of dollars during the pandemic because of closures at its theme parks and the shutdown of movie theaters.

Also gone is Adam Miller, founder of Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., who was replaced as CEO on June 15, 2020, by Phil Saunders, the former CEO of Saba Software. Cornerstone, the Santa Monica-based cloud-based software provider, bought Saba in early 2020.

Miller ranked No. 43 on the list with $5.3 million in total compensation, down 32% from his package of $7.8 million the previous year. Saunders, a newcomer to the list, holds the No. 34 spot with his $7.7 million in total compensation.

Another new name on the list is Dan Henry, who became president and CEO of Green Dot Corp. in March 2020. Henry’s time on the list may be limited, though. In May, the executive announced that the Pasadena-based prepaid debit card issuer is moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas, where he lives.

Henry ranked No. 11 on the list with a total compensation package of $15.8 million.