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‘Hard for some to stomach’: Astronomical CEO pay packets revealed

Australia's corporate leaders are being handsomely rewarded, new data shows.

Australia's corporate leaders are being handsomely rewarded, new data shows. Photo: Getty

Australia’s executive class has enjoyed a huge pay bump over the past year, with data revealing massive jumps in base salaries and bonuses at the largest listed companies.

Figures published on Wednesday by the Governance Institute of Australia found average pay of listed CEOs rose 14 per cent in the past year and 11 per cent for managing directors.

Average fixed remuneration of an ASX 200 CEO is now $1.37 million, up from $1.14 million, while the figure has risen from $1.55 million to $1.88 million for the top managing directors.

About half of MDs and CEOs were eligible for bonuses, with the average maximum amount being 89 per cent of their base salaries for MDs and 93 per cent for CEOs, the institute said.

Governance Institute chief Megan Motto said senior leaders at publicly listed companies are probably being rewarded by investors for record market valuations and higher profits.

“Executives are clearly being compensated for delivering profits and returns for shareholders and are making the most of a competitive market for top talent,” Motto said.

“But we have also seen increased shareholder and investor scrutiny of executive pay in the past 12 months, which is likely to continue if companies aren’t able to justify such substantial remuneration increases.”

More broadly than just CEOs, the Governance Institute of Australia  says about 75 per cent of C-Suite executives received a pay increase in the past year, with ASX-listed leaders getting the highest percentage at 7.1 per cent.

The massive increase in executive pay comes as most Australian families struggle with the cost of living after several years in which inflation has outpaced wages growth for workers.

Real wages growth has returned only recently, while the Fair Work Commission (FWC) delivered a 3.75 per cent hike in minimum rates earlier this month, slightly ahead of prices.

Motto acknowledged that the latest executive pay data will be “hard for some to stomach”, but that ASX-listed companies are large, employ many people and deliver super returns.

“It will be up to those investors and shareholders to make their voices heard if they feel there are reputational risks in not meeting community expectations,” Motto explained.

Unlike some other similar studies of executive pay, the GIA figures are anonymous and don’t include details on what specific corporate leaders are paid.

Though they do canvass a broad range of organisations beyond the ASX, including private firms and super funds too.

Board members are also counted, with average remuneration increases of between 8 and 9 per cent posted in both listed and private sector companies, according to the analysis.

The biggest criteria for fixed remuneration increases at large listed companies was consultant benchmarking, whereas organisational performance was the key issue for unlisted and private companies.

In the not-for-profit (NFP) sector, leaders had their pay set mainly based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The 2024 remuneration survey was based on data from 1089 companies and organisations, with revenues ranging from less than $1 million to more than $4 billion.

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