Dr. Bronner's CEO, David Bronner
Dr. Bronner's caps CEO David Bronner (in photo) pay at 5x the lowest earner (around $238k), a stark contrast to sky-high CEO salaries elsewhere. Twitter / John Rampton @johnrampton

When it comes to corporate leadership, compensation packages often reflect not only the financial success of a company but also the perceived value and impact of its top executives. Among the highest-paid CEOs in the United States, a select few stand out, earning eye-popping sums that highlight their pivotal roles in driving their companies to new heights. These leaders command salaries and bonuses that reward their past performance and incentivize future growth and innovation.

CEO compensation appears on an unstoppable upward climb. According to the Wall Street Journal, the median payout for CEOs at major companies reached a record-breaking $15.7 million in 2023. This represents a significant jump from the already high median of $14.5 million in 2022, highlighting the ongoing trend.

On the other hand, contrasting sharply with these high earners is a CEO who has taken a markedly different approach to compensation. This leader has implemented a policy to cap their salary at no more than five times that of their company's lowest-paid worker.

By prioritizing equitable pay, this CEO sets a unique example, challenging the norms of executive compensation and sparking meaningful conversations about the values and responsibilities of corporate leadership.

So, who are they? Here's the list of some of the US's most well-compensated CEOs:

1) Elon Musk

Annual Salary: $56 billion via Tesla compensation package

A significant chunk of Elon Musk's pay package is tied to Tesla's performance. Musk's total compensation comes primarily from stock options. The reported value of his package was based on estimates at the time of the grant and could fluctuate based on Tesla's stock performance.

Musk made headlines last month when he secured the biggest-ever compensation package in 2023. Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, defies traditional norms regarding executive compensation. Unlike many CEOs who receive high base salaries, Musk's annual salary is relatively modest.

2) Hock Tan, Broadcom

Annual Salary: $162 million

According to Equilar, Hock Tan, CEO of Broadcom, saw his total compensation skyrocket to $161.8 million in 2023, marking a staggering 167 percent increase from the previous year. This puts Tan's pay at a ratio of 510 to 1 compared to the average Broadcom employee, highlighting a significant disparity. Broadcom itself boasted a strong year with $35.8 billion in revenue for fiscal 2023.

3) Nikesh Arora, Palo Alto Networks

Annual Salary: $151.4 million in total compensation for fiscal 2023

Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora raked in a hefty $151.4 million in total compensation for fiscal 2023, making him one of the highest-paid CEOs, according to a C-Suite Comp report (via Economic Times).

Palo Alto Networks' CEO, Nikesh Arora, earned a hefty $151.4 million in total compensation for 2023, marking a staggering 1,355 percent increase, according to Equilar. This puts Arora's pay at a ratio of 735 to 1 compared to the average Palo Alto Networks worker. The company itself reported strong financials, generating $6.89 billion in revenue for fiscal 2023.

4) Sue Nabi, Coty

Annual Salary: Compensation package of $149.43 million

Sue Nabi is at the helm of beauty giant Coty. Her total compensation package ballooned to a staggering $149.4 million in 2023, reflecting a monumental 4,100% increase, according to Equilar. This puts Nabi's pay at a ratio of 3,769 to 1 compared to the average Coty employee.

5) Christopher Winfrey, Charter Communications

Annual Salary: $89 million base salary for 2023

Charter's CEO, Chris Winfrey, saw a bump in his base salary for 2023. In his first full year at the helm, his pay rose to $1.7 million, up from $1.35 million the year before (according to a March 4th SEC filing), according to a report by Hollywood Reporter.

Charter Communications CEO Chris Winfrey has received an $89.1 million compensation package since taking the helm in December 2022. Equilar says this translates to a boss-to-worker pay ratio of 1,635 to 1. In fiscal 2023, the company generated $54.6 billion in revenue.

6) Will Lansing, FICO

Annual Salary: $66.3 million in fiscal 2023

William Lansing, CEO of Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO's parent company), received a total compensation package of $66.3 million in fiscal 2023. This included a base salary of $750,000, a bonus of $1.2 million, and significant stock-based awards (details according to proxy statements filed for 2023), as per Salary.com

William Lansing, CEO of Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind the widely used FICO credit scoring model, received a total compensation of $66.3 million in fiscal 2023. This represents a 251% increase, resulting in a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 653 to 1. The company's revenue for the same fiscal year was $1.5 billion.

In a statement to Business Insider, a company spokesperson defended the compensation package, highlighting that under Lansing's leadership over the past decade, FICO has delivered total shareholder return within the top 1% of the S&P 500. They further noted that Lansing's base salary of $750,000 for 2023 is below industry averages and falls within the bottom quartile of S&P 500 CEOs.

This focus on high CEO compensation raises the question of alternative models, such as the approach taken by Dr. Bronner's CEO, David Bronner, who caps his own pay at a set multiple of the company's lowest salary.

Taking A Different Approach

Dr. Bronner's, a 150-year-old family-owned business, sells an impressive one soap bottle every two seconds. But for them, it's about more than just products; they stand for a deeper mission.

In a recent Instagram post, Dr. Bronner's, the soap company known for its socially conscious values, revealed a unique aspect of its business practices: a cap on executive salaries.

This cap restricts the highest-paid executives' compensation to no more than five times that of the lowest-paid, fully vested employee (meaning someone who's been with the company for at least five years and enjoys full benefits).

"An ethical company should pay a fair salary and good benefits and enable people to make ends meet on the wages they receive. We're really trying to set an example of just being reasonable," CEO David Bronner said. Dr. Bronner's commitment to social responsibility extends beyond its products.

Their recently released 2023 earnings report reveals a strong financial performance in 2022, with over $170 million in revenue generated, largely within the US (86.7 percent). Interestingly, the report also highlights the company's investment in its workforce.

Dr. Bronner's boasts a team of 311 US employees, and a noteworthy 73 percent of their managers are promoted from within, indicating a focus on internal talent development. Dr. Bronner's offered competitive wages in 2022. According to the report, regular, non-temporary employees started at $24.85 per hour, while temporary workers began at $21.30 per hour.

At Dr. Bronner's, full-time employees starting at the 2022 rate of $24.85 per hour could reach $47,712 annually within five years, assuming a consistent 40-hour workweek. Dr. Bronner's unique approach extends to executive compensation. If calculated, the CEO earns $238,560, annually.

A June study by the Associated Press found the median CEO salary last year to be around $1.3 million—over five times higher than what Dr. Bronner caps its highest-paid employee at.

The study tracked CEO pay at S&P 500 companies and discovered that in half of the firms, "it would take the worker at the middle of the company's pay scale almost 200 years to make what their CEO did."

This vast difference is even more stark when considering the national perspective. A separate study revealed that the midpoint total compensation package for CEOs, including salary, bonuses, and stock awards, reached a staggering $16.3 million in 2023.

Aside from capping CEO pay, the company also offers childcare aid, free healthcare, daily vegan meals, and donates remaining profits. CEO David Bronner finds joy in this model. This focus on a positive work environment stands in stark contrast to a recent Businessolver poll, where 52 percent of CEOs reported a toxic company culture.

Further highlighting the challenges of leading a company, a recent Russell Reynolds Associates report shows CEO turnover is at an all-time high, with women at the helm exiting even faster. This highlights the pressure and complexities of the CEO role, making Dr. Bronner's focus on employee well-being even more noteworthy.