Things Are Looking Up

CFOs are enjoying larger pay gains than other C-level executives, for good reason.

Even before 2008 gave us a September to Remember on Wall Street, CFOs were enjoying a notable rise in compensation, with the increases to their pay packages outpacing those of other C-level executives. From the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley through the subprime meltdown and into what feels like a perpetually looming recession, CFOs have had to shoulder tremendous responsibility for maintaining the integrity of corporate financials even as they look for ways to improve them.

“In the big issues, CFOs are front and center,” says Melissa Burek, a principal at Mercer, which provided most of the data for this report. And few experts see CFOs stepping out of the limelight any time soon, which should bode well for future pay prospects. “More visibility,” says Alexander Cwirko-Godycki, research manager for executive-compensation research firm Equilar Inc., “leads to a ratcheting up of pay.”

While CFOs still lag chief executive officers and chief operating officers in terms of average compensation, they are gaining. Median total direct compensation — comprising base pay and short- and long-term incentives — moved up 5.4 percent for CFOs, to $2.3 million, while CEOs slipped back by 1.4 percent, to $7.3 million, and COOs dropped by 1.7 percent, to $3 million. CFOs achieved the steepest rise in actual short-term incentives, with an average gain of 11.5 percent (to $558,000) versus a decline of 3.5 percent for CEOs (to $1.5 million). COOs held steady at $725,000. Base salaries rose 3.1 percent for CFOs, to $516,000, while CEO base pay remained flat and COOs saw only an incremental gain of 0.6 percent, to $635,000.

At the Top, Big Pay but Huge Turnover

Company size is, of course, a major determinant in overall compensation. At the 50 largest companies in the United States, CFOs pocketed a median $4.5 million in total direct compensation. At “Large 150″ companies (defined by Mercer as having revenue of $8 billion to $42 billion), CFOs earned a median of $2.7 million, while CFOs in the “Midsize 150″ ($1 billion to $8 billion) earned $1.4 million. Short-term incentives were similar across all three groups, but long-term incentives varied widely.

The median base salary for CFOs at Top 50 companies was $614,000, while at Large 150 companies it was $576,000 and at the Midsize 150 it was only $433,000. Median short-term incentives also came in vente, grande, and tall to match revenues: $998,000, $734,000, and $332,000, respectively.

CFOs at the peak of the pay pyramid hauled in princely sums. David A. Viniar of Goldman Sachs, who in early 2007 directed Goldman traders to trim mortgage exposure, snared first place with a whopping $42.2 million in total compensation, according to’s CompAnalyst Executive, which identified the top 20 earners. Safra Catz at Oracle and Gary Crittenden at Citigroup each earned more than $30 million, while 15 more counterparts each earned more than $10 million. “These CFOs are all leaders in their respective industries. Does their 2007 compensation surprise me? No,” says Josh Lurie, vice president, executive compensation, at Pivotal roles in volatile capital markets could propel CFO compensation still higher. “In certain industries,” Lurie predicts, “I can see CFO pay starting to creep up toward the CEO’s.”


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